European research initiative "SMErobotics" aims to revolutionize the use of robots in small and medium-sized enterprises
Stuttgart, 22 February 2012
A robot that is simple and intuitive to use without the need for complex programming, that learns automatically and interactively from and with its human colleague, that "thinks for itself" and genuinely works together with people rather than just doing its own thing - this is the vision behind "SMErobotics". The European research initiative, which is being coordinated by the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation (IPA), is aimed at promoting the use of robots in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) by developing versatile and cost-effective "smart" automation systems.
"The purpose of SMErobotics is to create the technological foundation for profitable and intelligent robot solutions for small and medium-sized manufacturing businesses": this is how project coordinator Martin Hägele from Fraunhofer IPA explains the goal behind the initiative, which is set to run over a four-year period and receives EU funding under the 7th Framework Programme. The objective of SMErobotics is to make the industrial robot SME-compatible: to combine the high productivity, constant quality and unerring accuracy of modern robot-based industrial automation with the flexible, customer-focused methods of production characteristic of SMEs. To achieve this objective, setup, operation and maintenance must be made much more simple and adaptability to different work environments, processes and tasks must be improved.
Focus on cognitive robotic skills
The research initiative, a follow-up to the successful predecessor project "SMErobot", which ran from 2005 to 2009, is focused on expanding the capabilities of modern industrial robots to include cognitive skills such as situation recognition, instruction by the worker and machine learning. SMErobotics places the emphasis on novel software features, explains Martin Hägele: "An intelligent robotic system does not rigidly follow a specific computer program. Instead, it learns from and with its human co-worker. It continuously improves the quality of its work through human-machine interaction and can be assigned new tasks by the worker himself without the need for the involvement of an external system integrator or a lengthy stoppage in work."
The robot of the future is to be able to communicate with its human "colleague" in a variety of ways depending on the particular situation: from simple voice commands to the input of texts or graphics to intuitive robot guidance. Yet the robot's interaction with its human co-worker is planned to go even further: SMErobotics aims to make it possible in future for a human worker to teach the robot new tasks by practical demonstration, i.e. by "showing" the robot how to carry out even complex tasks of the kind found in industrial production.
Intuitive and effective human-robot cooperation
A key challenge, therefore, is to ensure intuitive and dependable cooperation between human and robot, to enable the robot not only to interact safely and appropriately with the human, but also to cope with the inevitable sources of error that occur in a day-to-day production environment, such as the changing positions of workpieces, variable delivery of components from or to the human or other machines. The goal is to automatically generate a robust and optimized work process.
"Adaptive robots that can be flexibly used without high follow-up costs for a variety of different tasks will pay for themselves through lower overall costs and will take SME automation a big step forward." This is what developers confidently believe. Like SMErobot before it, SMErobotics, too, is based on the close cooperation of partners in industry and research with a number of interested SMEs, the objective being to drive forward the necessary technological developments in a manner as close to the real world as possible.
European open partnership
With the leading European robot manufacturers Comau, Güdel, KUKA and Reis and the internationally renowned universities and research establishments of Lund University, Sweden, DTI Danish Technological Institute, Denmark, the fortiss Institute at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) and the DLR Institute for Robotics and Mechatronics, SMErobotics has access to the technical know-how required for ambitious solutions and genuine breakthroughs in robotics technology.
Coordinated by Fraunhofer IPA, a leading institution for applied research, and with its SME-experienced industrial partners, who are familiar with the everyday challenges of flexible automation, SMErobotics is engaged in close collaboration with various SMEs, which will test the newly developed technologies under real-world conditions in four technology demonstrators already during the project lifetime. The SMErobotics initiative is open to other SMEs wishing to contribute their experience and to benefit from the latest technological advances.
Contact and more information:
Martin Hägele, Project Coordinator
c/o Fraunhofer IPA, Nobelstrasse 12, D-70569 Stuttgart
Thilo Zimmermann Project Secretariat
GPS Gesellschaft für Produktionssysteme GmbH
Phone: +49 711 687031-42
Fax: +49 711 687031-55
Project acronym: SMErobotics
Project full title: "The European Robotics Initiative for Strengthening the Competitiveness of SMEs in Manufacturing by integrating aspects of cognitive systems"
Grant: FP7 - IP 287787
Gian Paolo Gerio
Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt e.V.
Technologisk Institut DTI
Kuka Laboratories GmbH
Reis GmbH & Co. KG Maschinenfabrik