Space robots to invade manufacturing

Baxter300Space robotics could soon be invading the manufacturing sector, according to Antonio Espingardeiro, a University of Salford researcher who is looking into the ethics of human and robotic interaction.

Espingardeiro, who is a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and is carrying out the study as part of his PhD, says that having highly dexterous robots working alongside humans in factories and industrial environments could become a norm in the future.

Humans, he contends, have biological limitations, get tired and suffer from health problems. Their performance decreases with time, they are affected by repetitive jobs, and psychologically humans want to perform more and different tasks. Dexterous robots will be able to learn through human teaching how to position goods, assemble items, perform dangerous and repetitive tasks and be qualitatively supervised by humans.

Such partnership could become a “standard de facto” in future assembly and disassembly lines, Espingardeiro argues. “Baxter from rethink robotics is already an example of how low cost robotic applications could reframe the current manufacturing schemes,” he says.

Because robots work in difficult environments such as in space, component materials are constantly improving and research is being conducted into lighter and more resistive materials to temperatures, obstacles or radiation. “Such features improve robots’ mobility and energy consumption ratios,” says Espingardeiro.

“One of the most important elements deals with the AI algorithms embedded into planetary rovers. In space exploration, control is the key element to success. It is common to have delays in teleoperated missions where the operator loses communication with the robot for an undetermined period of time. During the blackout, the robot has to have enough autonomy to navigate, negotiate obstacles, adversities and accomplish certain goals.

“The number of applications on earth for such robots and its constituent technologies are numerous: agriculture robots, health and medicine, maintenance tasks, security, search and rescue, supervision, or even autonomous driving vehicles are just a few examples of how such technologies could create added value and benefit humankind.”

This material is protected by copyright Ken Hurst 2013.


About Ken Hurst

Ken Hurst began his career as a journalist in London over 30 years ago, working on a range of publications before moving on to weekly newspaper production in the newly-independent Zambia of the 1970s. He returned to the UK where his work included spells on newspapers and magazines, before moving to head up Norwich Union’s corporate affairs division. In the 1990s he moved on to freelance, co-own and publish the B2B audio magazine Sound and front the BBC radio Yesterday’s Papers programme. There followed six years as Business Editor at Britain’s biggest selling regional daily newspaper, The Eastern Daily Press, where he led an award-winning team and for whom he still writes a weekly socio/political comment column. Subsequently, he was Group Editorial Director at CBM, responsible for its UK and US magazine output – including The Manufacturer magazine – research-driven industry reports and live events content. Currently he is Contributing Editor at Works Management magazine publisher Findlay Media and Chairman of the consumer publishing house TNT Multimedia Ltd. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and of the British Association of Communicators in Business.
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