Skip main navigation

New offer! Get 30% off one whole year of Unlimited learning. Subscribe for just £249.99 £174.99. New subscribers only T&Cs apply

Find out more

How future robotic teams might work together

Demonstrations and discussions about different robot teams working together.
This is KUKA’s lightweight arm. It’s called the iiwa, which is their next generation of industrial robotic arm. This is the academic version, which is capable of carrying roughly seven kilos and has a reach of roughly 800 millimetres. We’ve got it equipped here with a Schunk Dextrous Hand, so a three-fingered dexterous hand, which also has tactile portions on the fingertips which let you know how hard it’s gripping something. The robot arm itself has been developed for future use in factories, particularly looking at co-working scenarios where a member of the factory floor staff will be working with a robot. That robot will be doing the dull, repetitive parts of their everyday tasks.
It means they can be getting on with their normal work doing the more dexterous parts, the more highly skilled parts, while the robot does the parts that will actually take their time. One of the ways that we can actually show how this robot will actually do this task is through something called compliance. Compliance means that we’re effectively able to back-drive the motors given a force someone applies. That means I can actually begin to teach it a various set of movements that it has to make. So this could be, for example, an everyday pick-and-place task which I would have to manually do myself.
But I can actually do this with a robot, and actually get the robot to perform this task itself. And what that means is, because I’ve taught it the task, it can actually replay that task endlessly, 24/7, doing exactly the same job and the same movements over and over again. And that frees me up to do the other work that I need to do on the line. We’re able to do this because the motors are back-drivable. The motors will actually allow the arm to move, but then keep it in position.
This is one of the ways that actually makes this arm safer, because traditional robot arms that you see in industry these days on factory lines typically need to be caged in. That’s for the safety of any operators who need to be outside that cage, because the arm will not detect them. This back-drivable compliant nature of this arm means we can actually closely interact with the arm and it is actually then safe to use. One of the other aspects of this arm that we have is the multiple degrees of freedom that we can actually see within the arm itself.
So for example, as I begin to rotate the arm, you can see all the joints of the arm are moving, but I’m actually remaining in a fixed position in space. What this means, and what this provides us, is a way of actually planning for motion of the arm to avoid problems and issues where particular joints may come into collision with each other, and actually conflict and cause a collision. By careful planning and careful use of this redundancy, we can actually get around these problems. Of course, one of the big areas where there’s going to be major breakthroughs as well, I think, is in robot surgery and robots in medicine.
Because currently, the robot surgeon - it’s sort of a remote controlled thing called the daVinci Si, which is mostly used - there’s a couple of others around as well. And so the surgeon has her or his head in a console, working with levers, but you can set it up so that somebody has shaky hands or makes big movements and it only moves a small way. It’s basically keyhole surgery.
In medicine, it’s also the idea of remote surgery, so that this idea that the doctors are in there with the console, but you could make it remote so that for instance, I can see in the future, and there’s been some research on it, putting one of these small surgeon things on ambulances. So you’ve got a pileup on the motorway - most people die coming back to the hospital, that’s where you die - or some sort of rescues, emergency, storms or anything like that. So you send these little surgeons out, and one doctor with the help of assistants on the ground could do temporary operations on a number of people, make them secure to bring them back to the hospital.
And the US military were working on that for battlefield, but they cancelled programme, unfortunately. It would have been good for all of us. There has been an operation already between Buenos Aires and Paris. So a surgeon in Paris was operating on someone in Buenos Aires. They have to have a dedicated line, of course, because if it breaks, you’ve really had it. So I could see that that would be a very good use as well, because lots of places in the world don’t have the possibility of having a surgeon.
And if you could just fly in one of these, when it’s needed in some little village somewhere, or in some war zone, you could fly it in and the surgeons can operate from safety at home and not have to go travelling or whatever. By working in teams, robots can accomplish a mission that is impossible for a single robot alone. So, for example, they could push around objects that are a very bulky and heavy that a single robot is not capable of moving around. And there’s many more examples where robots can benefit from collaboration and in particular where the environment gets physically manipulated. Other areas for swarms of robots are inaccessible spaces like the deep sea, or space, even other planets.
So if you send a team of robots there, they can explore the environment, they can explore much more environment than a single robot, and they also are inherently redundant. If a single robot breaks down, it’s not that the entire mission has failed. So having swarms of robots brings us flexibility and robustness, and therefore in principle, you can apply them to virtually any type of environment.

Our experts share what the future will look like for team working robots.

First up, Dr Jonathan Aitken gives us a glimpse into the factories of the future, explaining how the Kuka iiwa robot arm will work alongside workers on the factory floor. We’ll then hear from Professor Noel Sharkey about robot surgeons and from Dr Roderich Gross about swarms of exploratory robots.

This article is from the free online

Building a Future with Robots

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now