News briefs for the week take a look at special cobot debuts at FABTECH and Pack Expo: Neuromeka’s robot welding cell for shipbuilding and Staubli’s TX2-60 Stericlean for high-risk sterile environments, the first-ever, mass-produced humanoid robots, a robot system, after 250,000 tries, discovers toughest known structure, subsea robots service “floating” wind farm, and Aura, the humanoid “spokesbot” for the new Las Vegas Sphere.
Tradeshows debut new cobot tasks
FABTECH (Chicago) and Pack Expo (Las Vegas), tradeshows that were run nearly simultaneously this past September 11-14, always have a few surprises showcased for the first time, and this year was no different. New tasks for cobots were highlighted.
Korea-based Neuromeka introduced a new robot welding cell at FABTECH’s robot pavilion. The cobot welding cell is specifically designed for block welding processes in the construction of large ships. Blocks refer to a ship’s hull which is divided into sections called blocks (see diagram).
Each block is again divided into assemblies and sub-assemblies. These are welded together to form three-dimensional structures called block assemblies.
Neuromeka’s cobot block-welding cell features arc sensor-based welding, seam tracking, and automatic detection of welding irregularities using 3D cameras.
Its user-friendly interface and simplified programming lend themselves well to non-expert use, which is appealing to shipbuilding’s current labor scarcity.
Swiss-based Stäubli showcased its high-precision TX2-60 Stericlean robot that automates medical device manufacturing processes and is designed for high-risk sterile environments.
The TX2-60 picks and places medical device components using AI vision to locate appropriate parts and then transmits their pick coordinates to the robot for the pick-and-place maneuver. Production is tracked by means of a monitor, allowing full traceability, while both operational safety and efficiency are maintained.
The 6-axis, TX2-60 Stericlean is designed to meet the “stringent requirements of hydrogen peroxide (H²O²) decontamination process.” It can operate in a Grade A environment (clean room high-risk operations) for various applications in laboratory, batch testing, or pharmaceutical production.
Both the Neuromeka welding cell and the Staubli Stericlean highlight the capabilities and versatility of cobots in taking on previously manual tasks, which yearly seems to be the evolving hallmark of cobot technology.
First-ever, mass-produced humanoid robots
Mass-producing a robot at scale whose technology is developed enough to trust is what all robot vendors aspire to. Mass production of bi-pedal humanoid robots has, until recently, never been attempted. …Not any longer!
Oregon-based Agility Robotics is building a factory capable of producing 10,000 of its humanoid robot Digit. A first-ever for bi-pedal humanoids.
“The opening of our factory marks a pivotal moment in the history of robotics: the beginning of the mass production of commercial humanoid robots,” said Agility Robotics’ co-founder and CEO Damion Shelton.
The market appears to be ready. Incredibly, humanoid robots currently at a $1.8 billion global market is forecast to explode to $13.8 billion by 2028, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 50%!
Investors are onboard: 2022 saw Agility pick up $150 million from Amazon and others.
With confidence levels seemingly sky high, the startup (founded in 2015; sold its first Digits in 2018) is building a factory in Salem, Oregon that it calls a RoboFab. If and when it gets to max production of 10,000 robots annually, the 70,000-square-foot facility will employ 500, says the company.
Shelton told CNBC that his team developed Digit with a human form factor so that the robots can lift, sort, and maneuver while staying balanced, and so “they could operate in environments where steps or other structures could otherwise limit the use of robotics. The robots are powered with rechargeable lithium-ion batteries.”
As the company website puts it: “You don’t accomplish “never been done before” without a culture that supports risk-taking and healthy living.”
Video: Evolution of Digit 2015 to 2023:
The new factory: RoboFab:
Robot discovers toughest known structure
It took a 6-axis robot and its lab mates—five 3D printers, a scale, and a universal testing machine—to work through 25,000 lab experiments before discovering the world’s toughest new structure. At a rate of 50 experiments per day, all the experiments were conducted in a totally autonomous robotics laboratory without any human supervision.
A product of Boston University’s College of Engineering, The novel structure, dubbed Willow, is made of a kind of polyester called PLA and measured 73.3% energy absorption. As the five 3D printers use seven types of plastic to create different structures, the structures are analyzed for their energy-absorption capabilities using a compression machine and a computer vision system to monitor the responses. The 6-axis cobot arm moves plastic samples for testing.
By brute testing through 25,000 experiments, the system found Willow, the toughest structure ever recorded. The findings, according to the researchers, represent a potential game changer in designs across industries, improving safety in vehicles, as well as helmets and other protective equipment for various sports.
For the robotic system, it represents a larger picture because autonomous research and discovery with the robotic system doing the lab work entirely, is a new trend that saves lab workers from repetitive drudgery and yet opens up opportunities to make new discoveries like Willow.
Subsea robots service “floating” wind farm
When ocean wind farms can’t set down pillars for stability on the seabed, they then need to float on the surface, which can cause multiple problems.
Norwegian energy giant Equinor won a 2-gigawatt (GW) lease in Morro Bay, California, for America’s first-ever offshore wind lease to support commercial-scale “floating” offshore wind development. In terms of power output, the Moro Bay Project has the potential to generate enough energy to power around 750,000 US households.
Deploying to Morro Bay in February 2024, Equinor has contracted with marine robotics company Austin, TX-based Ocean Infinity to conduct a site investigation survey using multiple AUVs (autonomous underwater vehicles).
Shawntel Johnson, director of business development at Ocean Infinity, said, “AUVs in scale are the perfect tool for the US West Coast, providing not only great data quality advantages over towed arrays, in water depths down to 4,000 feet but also huge efficiency over wide areas.”
According to Equinor, The data that the AUVs collect will help Equinor develop and refine its floating offshore wind farm design and will also assist in developing the site assessment, plus construction and operations plans.
Humanoid robot Aura awaits you in Las Vegas
We’ve seen the face of Aura before, haven’t we?
The new and massive Las Vegas Sphere (large enough to easily fit the entire 151-foot tall Statue of Liberty, is soon to open as the world’s largest entertainment venue (music, shows, movies, etc.)
Thumbnail of Sphere: “The round, a 366-foot-high venue located just off the Las Vegas strip has 17,600 seats and can hold up to 20,000 people. The outside, known as the Exosphere, is covered in 1.2 million programmable LEDs that can be seen from up to a mile away.”
Within the Sphere, and billed as a “spokesbot”, is Aura the humanoid robot, as well as four other clones of herself. The robots will assist visitors with directions and information, and also give background about the Sphere to anyone who asks.
Aura is the robot we’ve seen before; the male version of Aura called Ameca debuted at CES2022 (Las Vegas) by UK-based Engineered Arts.
He/she is back again in Las Vegas for a permanent role as Aura the spokesbot for the Sphere.
“We are pushing the limits of how robotics can be used to enhance our guests’ journey through the venue,” said David Dibble, CEO of MSG Ventures, a division of Sphere Entertainment. Aura is designed to interact with guests and will serve as a “spokesbot” for Sphere on digital and social platforms.
Here’s a glimpse of the Sphere and Aura:
Here’s a backgrounder on robotics, engineered Arts & Ameca: