Bringing Britain’s key capabilities together driving strengths in robotics research & engineering.

24/06/2015

Britain’s ability to develop and exploit the vast potential of Robotics and Autonomous Systems was given a major boost today with the formal launch of The EPSRC UK Robotics and Autonomous Systems Network (UK-RAS Network).

UK-RASThe Network will bring together the country’s core academic capabilities in robotics innovation under national coordination for the first time and encourage academic and industry collaborations that will accelerate the development and adoption of robotics and autonomous systems.

The Network will be unveiled this evening at the Science Museum in London following a public lecture on Robot Ethics, organised by IET Robotics and Mechatronics Network in association with the Science Museum Lates and supported by the EPSRC UK-RAS Network.

The new network has already received strong support by major industrial partners, the Science Museum and Britain’s major professional engineering bodies including Royal Academy of Engineering, IET, and The Institution of Mechanical Engineers. The Network will expand to include broader stakeholders including key national laboratories and leading international collaborators in both academia and industry. The global market for service and industrial robots is estimated to reach $59.5 billion (€53.1 billion) by 2020.

Commenting on the launch, the Minister of State for Universities and Science, Jo Johnson said: “Robotics and autonomous systems have huge growth potential for the UK as one of our Eight Great Technologies. To get it right we need to draw on the expertise of the UK’s research base and the ambition of industry. By working collaboratively, this network will only help to accelerate growth of a high-tech sector and pave the way for new high-value, skilled jobs – a win, win scenario for the UK.”

The EPSRC UK-RAS Network is funded by The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) – Britain’s main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences. The Network’s mission is to provide academic leadership in Robotics and Autonomous Systems, expand collaboration with industry and integrate and coordinate activities at eight EPSRC-funded RAS dedicated facilities and Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) across the country.

The founding network members are Imperial College London, Bristol Robotics Lab, University of Edinburgh, Heriot-Watt University, University of Leeds, University of Liverpool, Loughborough University, University of Oxford, University of Sheffield, University of Southampton, University College London, and University of Warwick.

Professor Guang-Zhong Yang PhD, FREng, Director and Co-founder of the Hamlyn Centre for Robotic Surgery at Imperial College London and Chair of the UK-RAS Network commented: “Robotics and Autonomous Systems are set to play an increasingly vital role in the growth of the UK economy across all sectors of industry, from transport and healthcare to manufacturing and unmanned systems. This dedicated network provides a focus for the UK’s research and engineering excellence for the first time, ensuring that the UK can maintain its competitive edge in RAS innovation.”

Kedar Pandya, Head of the Engineering Theme for the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, added: “Working with Innovate UK and other research council partners, EPSRC’s mission is to support and invest in the world-leading research base that has earned the UK its deserved reputation for research excellence. Robotics and Autonomous Systems are one of the Eight Great Technologies in which the UK is set to be a global leader, and the technology being developed at these EPSRC-funded RAS facilities will deliver a significant impact on the research landscape, and attract the kind of industrial investment that will maximise the UK’s stake in the worldwide robotics market.”

The Network will organise a wide range of activities including network and strategic roadmap events such as the UK Robotics conference, symposia and focused workshops, public engagement and exhibitions. It will also have extensive online engagement activities using social media and web and user forums. The Network aims to strengthen the relationship with industry by supporting interdisciplinary mobility and industrial secondment and developing proof-of-concept (PoC) projects and running design challenges. There is also a strong emphasis on government policy and high-level engagement with international stakeholders.

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Byrun, the walking, jumping, hopping robot..

03/11/2014
Towards “10% of John Travolta’s walk, Margot Fonteyn’s dance and Julia Roberts’ smile…”

In movies, robots can walk, talk, and even pretend to be human. Their real-life counterparts are considerably more limited. But this gap is closing, and Engineered Arts is seeking to bring reality closer to fiction.

new_MapleLeg_hop1.jpg_ico500Engineered Art’s current flagship product is RoboThespian, the robotic actor. A full-sized humanoid with a biologically inspired design, RoboThespian is used by research and education centres the world over, to inform, to entertain, and to investigate new developments in robotics. Institutions in over 20 countries, including NASA Kennedy Space Centre (USA), Gazientep Planetarium (Turkey), Questacon Science Centre (Australia), and numerous universities world-wide are using RoboThespian every day. Maplesoft technology was used in the design and modeling of balancing and talking RoboThespian robots. MapleSim, the system-level modeling and simulation platform from Maplesoft was used to design the biologically analogous humanoid robot leg integrating a novel actuator, studying its static and dynamic stability, and building the designed leg to determine strategies for its control. However, RoboThespian, for all his conversational appeal, is largely static. His legs are powered, but he can merely squat and stand in place, never moving from a fixed location.

Enter Byrun, the latest Engineered Arts endeavour. Using MapleSim, Byrun’s designers and engineers have developed a biologically analogous leg design which will give Byrun the ability to walk, run, jump and hop. Byrun will be a new kind of full-scale dynamic humanoid that will take social robotics to the next level. With a faster, stronger, more dexterous upper body, a virtually infinite array of facial features (courtesy of his projective head display), and the same speaking and singing abilities as his predecessor, RoboThespian, Byrun has the potential to revolutionize human-robot interaction.

According to Guillaume Hirohide Sasagawa, an engineer at Engineered Arts, “In Byrun, we want to integrate more human-like dynamics into the mechanical design. Using a human-inspired approach at a hardware level makes walking, running and jumping possible without rigid, robotic-looking motion.” MapleSim assisted in Byrun’s design by allowing engineers to simulate complex, nonlinear, compliant components such as his pneumatic muscles and parallel springs. These are used for safety compliance, shock absorption, energy efficiency, and human like smooth motion curves.

Engineered Arts specializes in unconventional actuation solutions, chosen to best suit the application. Motors are fast and precise, but inefficient and rigid. Pneumatic actuators, on the other hand, are powerful and energy efficient, but difficult to control. The conventional approach in robotics is to use a single actuator for a single joint – Byrun will use a parallel electro-pneumatic design, where multiple actuators control single joint actions. This approach utilizes the best facets of both types of actuation, while compensating for their drawbacks. Conversely, some actuators will generate coupled motion across several axes, to imitate (for example) the organic design of the human shoulder. This makes for more natural-looking motion, but can be potentially difficult to control. Here, once more, Maplesoft comes to the rescue, providing advanced solvers that can tackle the difficult multi-variant control equations used to develop Byrun’s motion algorithms.

By creating virtual prototypes of each design phase in MapleSim, Byrun’s engineers can investigate the feasibility of mechanical solutions without needing to create a laborious series of prototypes. “The software helps us to create the design parameters in a very fast virtual environment,” explained Guillaume. “We are no longer required to rebuild the robot for every design iteration, which saves us significant time and cost, and allows us to explore more radical options. As well, complex kinematics can be easily simplified with the use of Maple – this is a powerful tool as the resources required for the project are considerably reduced.” Byrun’s hardware requires modeling mechanical, electrical, thermal and pneumatic elements – with the help of the simulation tool MapleSim, the component requirements can be largely anticipated in advance.

New Maple Leg!

New Maple Leg!

The team at Engineered Arts Ltd. has also found MapleSim useful for its ability to simplify complex calculations. “MapleSim’s ability to automatically generate complex mathematical models, such as the leg dynamics, is outstanding. Different parameters can be altered at different stages to reduce the complexity of calculations,” Guillaume said. “In the case of Byrun, we were able to dramatically simplify the leg dynamics, making the computations much faster. This is extremely powerful and has real impact on our project timelines and deliverables.”

In addition to designing Byrun’s electro-pneumatic hybrid legs and upper body for fully mobile walking and running, the engineers at Engineered Arts Ltd are also developing a robotic hand with the same principles, creating a compact, highly efficient compliant manipulator. They have designed an elbow joint with unconventional kinematic characteristic in humanoid robotics with electro-pneumatic parallel actuation, and are currently making a full torso-shoulder-arm model in MapleSim. This model will be used for solving forward kinematics, inverse kinematics, end-effecter dynamics and compliance.

Robots like Byrun are setting a new standard for both humanoid and more general robotic design. “To be worth its cost, this robot must perform something never seen before. If it can do just 10% of John Travolta’s walk, Margot Fonteyn’s dance and Julia Roberts’ smile, we have a winner,” William Jackson, Director of Engineered Arts, told the media. “Achieving these goals is a daunting task. We are creating not just an exciting piece of hardware, but one that will make a great development platform for others to build on. When Byrun takes his next step, so shall we.” Maplesoft Engineering Solutions will continue to be part of every step taken by this revolutionary team of robotic engineers.


Driving the lightweight helpers of Universal Robots!

29/03/2014
Kollmorgen drives the lightweight helpers of two models with which Universal Robots aim to establish the flexibility of articulated-arm robots in industrial production. 

UR 5 and UR 10 are the names of the two models with which Universal Robots aim to establish the flexibility of articulated-arm robots in industrial production. The focus is on work areas in which conventional robots have thus far been too big, too expensive, and too loud. Due to their low weight they can be used wherever they are needed. A large part of the power density of the six-axis articulated robots comes from specially adapted KBM direct drive motors from Kollmorgen. Universal Robots was able to embed the motors directly into the articulation axes without need for additional housings.

Author: Ian Young, Key Account Manager, Kollmorgen, Ratingen (D)

Author: Ian Young, Key Account Manager, Kollmorgen, Ratingen (D)

The six-axis robots are being used in processing and production facilities for example. The robots are easily programmed to accomplish repetitive tasks

The six-axis robots are being used in processing and production facilities for example. The robots are easily programmed to accomplish repetitive tasks

The KBM motors offer a great deal of freedom to configure the servo axes in a space-optimized way due to their variable, modular design.

The KBM motors offer a great deal of freedom to configure the servo axes in a space-optimized way due to their variable, modular design.

The UR 5 and UR 10 designs use KBM motors from Kollmorgen. They are integrated directly into the axis joint without a housing.

The UR 5 and UR 10 designs use KBM motors from Kollmorgen. They are integrated directly into the axis joint without a housing.

Esben H. Östergaard, technical business manager of Universal Robots, values Kollmorgen's high availability of supply in a constantly growing market.

Esben H. Östergaard, technical business manager of Universal Robots, values Kollmorgen’s high availability of supply in a constantly growing market.

Close partnership with people: the robots from Denmark have been designed for collaborative work in production.

Close partnership with people: the robots from Denmark have been designed for collaborative work in production.

They developed the UR5 and UR10 models for small and medium-sized enterprises in particular. The handling units lift a payload of five and ten kilograms, but only weigh 18 and 25 kilograms themselves respectively. This low weight makes it possible to move the units easily without complex subcomponents. The multi-functional robots are just as flexible in operation given their user-friendly software. This multi functionality supports the Danish company with a user-friendly piece of software. Using this, the six-axis lightweight robots are ready for new tasks in no time. No special knowledge of robotics is necessary for the programming.

Modular Design
The exceptional ratio of dead weight to loading capacity is the result of a sophisticated lightweight construction that does not contain anything it does not need. With the drive technology, this minimalist strategy means integrating Kollmorgen’s frameless kit motors directly into the articulation axes. In so doing the robot takes on the function of the motor housing, while the gear unit simultaneously serves as the primary bearing of the rotor. Viewed as a whole, the components used by UR frequently take on multiple functions, and this ultimately reduces the number of mechanical components such as ball bearings, couplings, or shafts considerably, thus decreasing overall system weight and form factor. In addition, with their high power density, the Kollmorgen motors increase the lifting capacity of the UR5 and UR10 platforms. With their high power density, the KBM motors increase the lifting capacity of the UR 5 and UR 10 at the same time.

The KBM motor series offers advanced electromagnetic designs for optimized torque and minimal cogging and harmonic distortion. These benefits are offered over a large operating speed range. The electromagnetic technology with a high packing density in the stator increases torque and keeps thermal losses low. High strength rare earth magnets are used in the rotor, which allow a continuous torque of 1.45 to 3,445 newton meters along with a peak torque of 4.91 to 12,812 newton meters. “The high quality of these motors was a reason why we opted for Kollmorgen,” explains Esben H. Östergaard, technical business manager of Universal Robots.

Given that the KBM motors are embedded in the robot housing and directly drive the load, the robots are able to achieve high level of precision in movement and force control. Targeted force control is critical in this regard, because the robots constantly have to move different workpieces perfectly with high variability. In practice they recognize the size and elasticity of the objects and adjust the force to be applied accordingly. This force must be stronger than just 25 newtons to do this. With a precision of ± 10 newtons and an accuracy of ± 5 millimeters, the required force and desired position can be programmed and executed for each of the six joints.

Operation without noise but high energy efficiency
Another advantage of the robots is its low-noise and energy-saving operation. From a total-cost-of-ownership perspective, the economical use of resources directly increases the efficiency of the robots overall. The competitiveness of this technology thus increases as a result. An additional benefit of high energy efficiency is closely linked to reduced losses in the motors. As efficiency is high, less heat is produced. This means the motors stay cooler, operate below their maximum ratings, and consequently achieve a longer service life. The improved temperature behavior also prevents the entire construction from heating up. “The motors we used in the past became pretty hot when in continuous operation. Because of the lower losses, the KBM motors from Kollmorgen simply stay colder. We can therefore run our robots in continuous operation without derating,” states Östergaard, and he refers to test procedures with long operation periods and comparatively high loads.

The KBM series is an innovative direct drive frameless motor technology provided by Kollmorgen. The frameless kit motors offer mechanical and plant engineering a wide range of solutions for creating applications with a maximum degree of flexibility, power density, dynamics, and durability. In addition to the technical advantages provided by this product, the KBM platform includes 14 frame designs and many pre-engineered standard options with competitive lead times. “We can basically order as many motors as we want, when and how we want,” emphasizes Östergaard. This aspect is of particular importance because Universal Robots is growing strongly. “We therefore need a partner in drive technology who is a good fit for us.” In this regard, Kollmorgen was able to impress the Danish robot specialists with delivery reliability and has since established a UR-specific production line at the Czech location in Brno.


Record sales for robots

22/01/2013

The annual sales of industrial robots for 2012 have beaten any other year to date reports the British Automation and Robot Association (BARA – part of the PPMA Group of Trade Associations). The first two quarters were mainly responsible for the majority of the annual sales and once again the automotive and automotive components sectors have been the main source.

BuR_Staeubli_robot-12011 was a record year for Robot sales at 1,336 industrial robots being sold from the major suppliers, but 2012 has by far exceeded this figure with 2,476 units being sold. Mike Wilson chairman of BARA said “whilst this is good news and the automotive sector has unsurprisingly generated most of these sales, we are witnessing only a modest upward trend over the last few years in the uptake of automation and robotics across other sectors. The Pharmaceutical industry being the strongest with growth of 115% over last year’s result.”

Grant Collier Head of Marketing for BARA, and responsible for the Automating Manufacturing Programme – a government initiative to persuade UK companies to automate and remain competitive, said “we have seen a tremendous level of interest from all sectors for the use of automation with the funds from the programme now almost completely allocated.  An increasing number of the companies that applied have asked for a further detailed review of their processes, but it’s still early days in seeing whether these appraisals actually turn into actual orders for automation and robotics systems”. He continued “the government has increased the capital allowance tenfold from £25,000 to £250,000 meaning there has never been a better time to invest in this technology”.

Other sector variances include Electronics which is up by 76% and the Food and Drink industry which is disappointingly down by 22% since 2011. The main consensus is that there is much interest from the Food and Drinks sector in automation but the major supermarkets continue to apply short contracts and the retain the ability to change packaging design with little notice. Whilst the latter is not the problem it once was with the programmability of automation and robotic systems, these issues have become an increasingly reported barrier to investing in automation by this sector.


British robot best ever year forecast

26/07/2012

If it wasn’t impressive enough with sales of robots from January to March 2012 outstripping sales in any other quarter to date, then sales for the first two quarters have now exceeded all previous full year sales on record!

In the first quarter robot sales of 923 units were recorded which is larger than the annual total for many of the previous years. The second quarter brought this figure to 2000 for the half year end.  However, automotive and automotive component orders contributed 85% of this figure in the first quarter and 89% of the sales in the second. This trend appears to be continuing, at least in the short term. Whilst in most other sectors robot sales are increasing, the growth still remains sluggish and in some sectors in sporadic decline.

Mike Wilson, British Automation and Robot Association Chairman said “whilst we welcome the level of robot orders from the automotive sector largely driven by product demand in global emerging markets, it is a real concern that other sectors are still not understanding the potential implications of not automating. Other countries such as China, Germany and most of the major European manufacturing nations are investing heavily in automation to sustain competitive advantage. Part of the problem in the UK is a short term approach and the perception that the pay back period is longer than it often is”.

Allen Green Managing Director of A K Industries who recently completed the free government automating manufacturing review, available to all British manufacturers said “we have recently had our automation review carried out on site and we have found this very useful.  The automation expert has highlighted several areas that we could cost effectively automate and the pay back period is a lot shorter than we had thought. We are pleased that the government is prepared to help UK manufacturing take the next steps in remaining competitive in an ever increasingly global market place. We have just completed our first 6-axis robotic cell”.

Automating Manufacturing
The British government’s drive to automate  manufacturing is going extremely well according to Grant Collier, Head of Marketing for the PPMA Group of Associations managing the programme “over 220 manufacturers around the UK have taken up the Government funded Automating Manufacturing Programme which shows manufacturers how they can benefit from automation.” Applications to date have come from a wide range of industries, including over one third from the food sector which is surprising since this has traditionally been an area very slow to adopt automation. He added, “the initial review is fully funded by the UK government with no obligation to take it further, the application process is simple, all companies should be looking at this as a route to improve their manufacturing operations”.


Yuletide control

08/12/2009

Wenceslaus looks out…

What do you get when you mix Bing Crosby, Good King Wenceslas, C++ programming, PLC and some CRS robot arms together?

A friend of ours was one of the first employees in the Apple facility in Cork city in the south of Ireland. The Apple Cork site facilitates operations for: call center, sales, manufacturing, service and OEM management for products sold in the EMEA region (Europe, Middle East and Africa). This plant was opened by the then Taoiseach (Head of Government), Jack Lynch, himself a Corkman, with great pomp and ceremony in September 1980.

My friend devised a programme using an early pre-MAC Apple to play the electronically the anthem of the city, a song called “The banks of my own lovely Lee!” (Cork city is built on the river Lee).

Shortly afterwards his parents were visiting him and he brought the system home to show it to them. After some time setting it off and explaining the intricacies and general wonderfullness of it he set the thing to play. And everything worked.

There was a silence broken only by his mother asking, “Tell me Jim, what is the advantage of this over a record player?”

So why am I telling this story? Werll this morning when I opened my email I found a message informing me of the updates in the LinkedIn ISA – International Society of Automation Group (2340 members). Included was an intriguing one: “What do you get when you mix Bing Crosby, Good King Wenceslas, C++ programming, PLC and some CRS robot arms together?”

I just had to click! I mean what would you do?

I succumbed and this utube presentation is the result. It was place thee by Instrumentation & Control Engineering Technologist at Swagelok Southwestern Ontario, Sarnia Fluid System Technologies Ltd in Canada. He adds that it was “our 2007 graduation class project from Lambton College’s Instrumentation & Control Engineering Technology (ICET) program.” and adds “Have a Very Merry Automation Christmas!”
And so say all of us!