Controllable machines have fascinated humans since ancient times. But what are the roots of robotics and robotics? What are the milestones in the past and what will happen in the future? What are its most important components and how does it work? What are collaborative robots and nanobots? How intelligent is a robot? Do they produce emotions and learn social behavior? We will explain the most important aspects of this technology that will fundamentally change the future of humanity.
Definition of robot
Robotics is a subfield of engineering and science, including mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and computer science. Robotics involves the design, construction, operation, and use of robots and computer systems to achieve control, sensory feedback, and information processing. Robots are devices that interact with the physical world based on sensors, actuators, and information processing. Industry is a key application area for robots, or, to be precise, Industry 4.0.
Application areas and benefits of robotics
Collaborative robots are becoming increasingly important. There are more and more aspects in the industrial field. Traditional industrial robots are being replaced by or supported by collaborative robots. Collaborative robots work with humans during the production process, and are no longer separated from human colleagues equipped with protective devices like typical industrial robots. Compared to traditional industrial robots, collaborative robots are smaller, more flexible to use, and easier to program.
Collaborative robots do not replace human work, but rather complement them. Canada’s Paradigm Electronics is an example of this: through the use of collaborative robots, productivity has increased by 50%, but there has been no reduction in jobs. Workers perform new tasks in newly created areas of activity, such as programming machines and quality control at the end of automated production processes. Experts at Boston Consulting Group believe that using robots in the future will increase employee productivity by 30%.
Industrial robots are programmable machines used to move, assemble, or process workpieces in an industrial environment. Most of these robots consist of a robotic arm, a gripper, various sensors and a control unit. They can also automate operations based on their own programming style. The density of robots worldwide has increased significantly over the past few years: in 2015, there were 66 robots per 10,000 employees on average, but now it has increased to 74 robots. In Europe, the average robot density is 99, the United States is 84, and Asia is 63.
According to 2016 IFR (International Robot Federation, International Federation of All National Robot Associations) statistics, about 31,500 robots are installed in the United States, a record high for industrial robots, an increase of 15% over 2015. In 2016, about 290,000 industrial robots were put into use worldwide, an increase of 14% over 2015. This development trend will continue in the future: an average annual growth rate of 12% is expected in the next few years.
Industrial robots for the automotive industry
In this key robot-oriented industry, machines have played an important role in automating production processes for more than 50 years, making workflows more efficient, safer, faster and more flexible. In 1961, the first industrial robot Unimate was introduced into the production process of General Motors. They use robots to remove the injection molded parts. Volkswagen in Wolfsburg, Germany, started using industrial robots for the first time in 1973. A robot developed in-house by a human colleague called “Robby” was put into use in Passat’s production process. According to an IFR survey, more than 17,600 industrial robots were used in the United States in 2016, a 43% increase from 2015.
AGV / AGV
An automated guided vehicle is a driverless transport vehicle equipped with a drive system with automatic control and non-contact guidance. Automatic guided vehicles are commonly used to transport materials used in production facilities. In industrial environments, automated guided vehicles represent the evolution from traditional, bulky conveyor belts to space-saving, highly flexible solutions. The warehouse is another popular place to use automated guided vehicles, which can deliver individual products or batches of goods to designated packaging locations for processing. This type of robot typically moves at speeds of about 1-2 meters per second and can transport up to about 2,000 kilograms. Automated guided vehicles differ in power supply, mission execution, and navigation and path planning. Electricity can be supplied via cables (for rail-guided guided vehicles), tracks or batteries. The battery is charged via an inductive charging pad or at a charging station.
The battery can also be replaced. Depending on its mission and deployment area, an automated guided vehicle used as a forklift can move pallets, an automated guided vehicle used as a tractor can tow a trailer, or it can transport boxes or packages. For example, automated guided vehicles can navigate by laser, in which case robots scan tags at specific locations so they can find their next destination. Another option is optical navigation by identifying colors, etc. In addition, antennas or guides are used to guide automated guided vehicles. The most flexible device is an autonomous AGV that scans the entire environment and creates a virtual map based on the results. They can notify other AGVs of obstacles and generate optimal transportation routes. Depending on the deployment area and the degree of movement required, the AGV is driven by one to four active drive wheels.