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Interactive Algorithm-Based Controls for Managing Industrial Robots

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Machine Tools and Forming Technology IWU have created a groundbreaking technology that allows people and large industrial robots to function together in an intuitive way, which feels quite like human teamwork. Adopting the usefulness of this technology, robots can distinguish faces, gestures, and postures to make this team work a lot safer and more efficient.

The robot detects the component in the worker’s grasp and cautiously follows it until she hands it over. (Image credit: Fraunhofer IWU)

A brief glance at shop floors reveals that human-robot partnership has gone mainstream in manufacturing. However, another glance exposes that this is more “to each his own” than “we’re in this together.” Heavy-duty robots function together with their human coworkers without safety fencing; however, direct interaction is impossible. Safety precautions command that the robot freezes as soon as a human enters into a sizable surrounding safety zone.

Safe, effective, and direct—a better way of working together

The Fraunhofer Institute for Machine Tools and Forming Technology IWU has developed an unparalleled technology to render human-machine teamwork more efficient, helping the overall manufacturing workflow.

We have added effective, secure and flexible interaction to legacy technology. This is the first time humans can communicate and collaborate directly with heavy-duty robots based on hand gesture in the industry.

Dr-Ing. Mohamad Bdiwi, Head of Department for Robotics, Fraunhofer IWU.

This partnership takes place something like this on the shop floor: The machine identifies human faces, gestures, and postures when a person comes into the robot’s work zone. This data helps to make the teamwork safe and to regulate the robot. The human only gestures using hands and arms to train the mechanized coworker to do a task. The robot is capable of interpreting even complex movements.

Our technology brings gesture control to industrial applications. To date, it has been used mainly in gaming applications, for example, for consoles,” adds Bdiwi. The robot not only monitors hands but also scans faces. For instance, if the human looks rearward or sideways to converse with another coworker, the machine knows to disregard gestures meant for others. Humans and robot can function together directly and even pass tools and parts to and fro. The robot “sees” when a hand is very close to the face of the worker, and waits for it to be drawn out of the danger zone before handing the object over. This human-robot interaction is possible due to smart algorithms and 3D cameras that provide the robot the power of sight.

The algorithms are set for action. Fraunhofer IWU scientists are going to display their innovation at the Hannover Messe preview on January 24th, 2019. Visitors to the Hannover Messe can witness a gesture-controlled, interactive demo application at the Hannover Messe on April 1st through 5th, 2019, at booth C24 in hall 17.

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