Why choose Human Robot Collaboration?
Humans and Robots Collaboration is a promising way to increase productivity and flexibility of businesses through the establishment of hybrid assembly lines or cells able to adapt to production changes. In the last decades, robots have proved their capabilities in manufacturing working as efficient, tireless and precise “employees” supporting the mass production era.
In recent years, the reduction of products’ life cycles and the turn towards mass customisation, prerequire the introduction of flexible and reconfigurable assembly lines or cells able to adapt to changes with downtimes or additional costs. Human workers can easily adapt to such changes through inherent improvisation and cognition skills, although they need to be supported to avoid unnecessary workload or employment with no adding value tasks.
In this context, robots can assist operators rather than to replace them by taking up to stressful tasks characterised by great repeatability or excessive loads. On the other hand, human workers can execute more dexterous and high-value procedures where improvisation is a must.
In reality, how important is “collaboration”, and how it can be achieved?
In hybrid assembly lines, where operators and humans coexist in a fenceless environment, the efficiency of interaction between humans and robots is vital for achieving optimum Key Performance Indicators. Effective collaboration means that resources are aware about their “colleague’s” status and intentions either for supportive collaboration or avoiding perturbation of others’ tasks.
Knowledge on robot’s condition and actions is crucial for operator’s comfort, considering that coexistence with “self-adaptive” robotic resources can influence physiological aspects (i.e. anxiety, curiosity, etc.). Awareness of operator’s status is also important for the system for both ensuring operator’s safety as well as for robot’s performance in terms of smooth operation without unexpected stops that stress hardware. The proficiency of the interaction depends on the capabilities of the “system-human” and “human-system” interfaces.
A novel interface enabling seamless and natural human-robot communication
The main challenge when designing such interfaces is how to monitor human behaviour and status in addition to how to provide to the operator all necessary information without distracting or confusing him/her. Both academia and industrial integrators have launched a series of communication interfaces aiming to bring robots and humans closer and make hybrid workstations more common by maximising human acceptance.
SHAREWORK introduces pioneer means of interaction between humans and robots for enabling seamless and natural “human-system” and “system-human” communication through state-of the-art Augmented Reality and IoT devices and services.
A new interaction framework is designed and developed within SHAREWORK project. The main focus is the design of a system that empowers seamless collaboration without limitations. This will be achieved through a scalable and reconfigurable interface where operators can select the most appropriate devices for him/ her and adjust the environment at will.
This customisation of the interface from higher level (i.e. number and type of wearable or non-wearable devices) to the lower level (i.e. visualization of information) is reinforced by overall SHAREWORK architecture. The operator is able to interact with the system using gestures, voice commands or touch for operating the system and providing real-time feedback.
On the other hand, the system communicates information to the operator through AR notifications, AR 2D & 3D visuals, sound, intuitive screen illustrations and physical object tracking. This information supports the operator either through assembly instructions or communication of robot-related information such as current robot task, robot trajectory and safety zone configurations. The novelty of the system lies on the harmonisation of information flow from both sides by building interfaces based on each operator needs.
SHAREWORK’s direct and natural interfaces will enhance Human Robot Collaboration, will reduce human errors and will bring humans and robots closer.
How SHAREWORK interaction module will bring humans and robots in manufacturing even closer?
SHAREWORK project introduces a wide framework of innovative technologies for safer and more efficient HRC. A series of project’s modules operate in parallel for ensuring smooth process execution, safety and adaptation. The designed interaction interfaces will make the operator a part of the system by making available valuable information and giving him/her an easy-to-use mean of communication with his/ hers robot colleague. State-of-the-art wearable devices (e.g. AR headsets, smartwatches, etc.) or non-wearable (e.g. tablets, HMIs, etc.) will be used at their full potential for enabling aforementioned natural interaction. The proposed interaction framework will be evaluated at four different use cases. The successful implementation and compatibility to different industrial requirements in aspects of human comfort, safety, production quality and human acceptance may lead to the normalisation of such interfaces and subsequently a boost of industrial human robot collaboration.
Dionisis Andronas owns a diploma in Mechanical and Aeronautics Engineering from the University of Patras. He is employed as a research engineer in Laboratory for Manufacturing Systems and Automation. He has been involved in a series of EU funded projects related to Human Robot Collaboration. He has background experience in robotics, machine elements, design and simulation tools. His research activities involve the design and operational verification of automation resources, besides robotic cells and human robot collaboration assembly lines.