The European Sharework project led by the Eurecat technology centre has tested a new smart system for safe and ergonomic collaboration between robots and workers in industry with a view to enhancing the working conditions of operators.
The project has developed flexible software made up of 14 technological modules “to furnish robots with the intelligence required to work closely with operators with no need for physical protection barriers,” says Daniel Serrano, director of Eurecat’s Robotics and Automation Unit.
The system “can understand the environment and human actions by drawing on a knowledge base and sensors and then make predictions about future status,” adds Néstor García, the project’s technical coordinator and head of Collaborative Robotics in Eurecat’s Robotics and Automation Unit. It “gets the robot to act accordingly with the ultimate goal of driving collaborative work between operators and robots and thus enhancing operator ergonomics and ramping up process productivity.”
The Sharework system’s proofs-of-concept have been conducted at Eurecat’s laboratories in Cerdanyola del Vallès, Catalonia; at STAM in Genoa, Italy; at the University of Brescia, Italy, and at the University of Patras, Greece.
After initial validation in a controlled laboratory environment in which employees of the project’s end users have been able to try out the technologies developed, tests will begin in the production and assembly plants of four industrial companies. Specifically, they will be run at SEAT S.A., in Martorell; at GOIZPER, in the Basque Country; at ALSTOM, in Santa Perpetua de Mogoda, and at CEMBRE’s facilities in Brescia.
The project has successfully tested the use of multiple cameras and sensors, smart data processing and the incorporation of augmented reality, gesture and speech recognition technology to afford intelligence to the robots and tailor their performance to workers’ needs.
The development of the system also includes ongoing study of human factors with the aim of adjusting and improving the user’s perception and increasing operator buy-in to the new robotic solution.
The Sharework project is fully funded by the European Commission and is being run in Spain, Italy, Luxembourg, France, Germany and Greece. Its purpose is to furnish industries with “a system for rolling out collaborative robotics in industry to make industrial assembly processes safer and more efficient in a worker-centred approach which provides them with a system to help them in their everyday tasks,” says Sharework project coordinator Simona Neri.
Implementation in four kinds of real-world industrial scenarios
Set against the current backdrop of the rise of collaborative robotics, Sharework targets deployment of operator-robot collaboration in four types of real-world industrial scenarios in the automotive, rail, metalworking and capital goods manufacturing sectors.
The project kicked off in November 2018 and is scheduled to end on 31 October 2022. It has a €7.3 million budget and is part of the “Transforming European Industry” strand in the Horizon 2020 call which seeks to implement innovative artificial intelligence technologies to enable effective robot-worker collaboration.
Sharework is run by a consortium made up by 15 partners. They are six research institutions (Eurecat, Fraunhofer IWU, the Italian National Research Council, the University of Patras, the University of Darmstadt and the RWTH Aachen University); eight industrial partners, of which four are industrial companies (STRANE, STAM, INTRASOFT and MCM), and four end-users (SEAT S.A., ALSTOM, CEMBRE and GO) along with a standardisation organisation (UNE).