The Fraunhofer Institute for Factory Operation and Automation IFF has come up with a safety solution for preventing robots and humans from colliding with each other in the work environment.
This development is part of the ViERforES project, which is supported by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Currently, robots that are assisting humans are placed in protective enclosures as per the requirements of the Industrial Safety Regulations. The risk of injury to humans is very high while they interact with robots without any protection. New technologies would therefore need to be developed for creating an environment where humans and robots can work together by defining safe zones, into which humans should refrain from entering or design a technology where the speed of the robot is slowed down whenever a human enters the safe zone.
The ViERforES project addresses the above discussed safety requirement with an innovative solution for constant monitoring of workplaces with a high degree of flexibility. The safety solution works with projectors and cameras that are mounted on ceilings. The safety zones are clearly projected on the floor or on the wall. The area is marked by the projected beams with visible lines, which humans can see and recognise the safety zone. Once they see the extent of the zone they can keep a safe distance from the robots. The cameras placed above detect anyone entering the safety zone by disrupting the projected lines. When such an intrusion happens, the robot slows down and additional optical or acoustic warning signals can be issued. The safety solution offers flexibility in the shape and size of the marked area. The manager of the Robotic Systems Business Unit at Fraunhofer IFF, Norbert Elkman, explained that they have used standard components to build the safety system, hence, it is a cost- effective solution, in which the camera and the projector are calibrated and synchronised with each other. Elkman added that the system can be dynamically modified with robotic controls. The system has modulated light, which Elkman claims is reliable even under the influence of external light. Apart from being used in the human-robot safety monitoring, the system can be used for monitoring the safety of public buildings as well.