Collaborative robots Switzerland: Robots and people work hand in hand

| Author / Editor: Silvano Böni, SMM / Susanne Hertenberger

Robots with fixed processes and big barriers will soon be a thing of the past. A young Swiss company is working on a robot arm that reacts appropriately to different situations, learns new things continuously and could soon be used in households.

The P-Rob 1R with six degrees of freedom (right) and his younger brother 1U
The P-Rob 1R with six degrees of freedom (right) and his younger brother 1U
(Bild: Maxon Motor)

The science of robotics is making big leaps. Robots are developing away from machines with clearly specified processes to interactive helpers that are not banished behind blockades and light barriers but have free movement and are still safe for humans. Hollywood has shown it to us in the Iron Man movies. The main actor Robert Downey Jr. has a robot arm as a helper by his side which gives him the solder as he requires, tightens screws or hands him the tool he needs.

Robot packaged in artificial leather

This could soon be the reality. At least according to the ideas of the young Swiss company F&P Robotics. 20 of the company’s employees have developed a robot that could completely change the working relationship between man and machine. It is a robot arm which is 1.1 meter in length in its standard design, it has a working radius of 80 centimetres and is equipped with six degrees of freedom. The aluminium construction of the P-Rob (stands for Personal-Robot) is covered in high quality artificial leather cover to give a pleasant feeling to the users.

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“With the P-Rob we want to bring the personal robot to a new level”, says Hansruedi Früh, CEO of F&P Robotics. He already has clear ideas about the applications of his robot. Areas of labour and industry automation are very well suited. “Here the robot can handle containers or vessels or the robot can be used in quality control.” Together with the newly developed software the robot can recognize, grip, manipulate objects and perceive the environment so that it reacts correctly as soon as a person approaches.

Learning from human behaviour

This is just supposed to be the beginning as far as F&P Robotics is concerned. The P-Rob should soon work together with other robot arms or people and recognize social behaviour of people and thus become an autonomously working machine. “The robot is in a position to analyse situations and to take the best action from his perspective”, says Hansruedi Früh. It is possible that this robot could independently fix errors in the production line and not shut down, which is the case today in case of an unplanned event.

Hansruedi Früh also thinks that in five to ten years his robot could be working, preparing food or doing other tasks in households. “The idea is to build an intelligent, interactive arm which is safe and reliable and moreover it will be perceived as an assistant or a friend and not as a machine.”

DC-Motors ensure precise movements

F&P Robotics falls back on brushless DC drives of Maxon Motor to drive their robot arms. Up to eight EC flat motors with diameters 45 and 90 millimetres and outputs of 70 and 90 Watts are used for the joints and the grip of the P-Rob. The great strength, the compact design and the good heat dissipation of the joints and the grip make them the optimal solution in the field of robots. “Most of all, we think the flat design of the motors is a big advantage”, says Hansruedi Früh. In combination with Maxon sensors the flat motors are also good dynamometers since the torque can be determined easily based on the strength of current in the drive. On the whole, simple control and user friendliness is the main concern for the young Swiss company. A laptop is enough to control and program the P-Rob. In this way it can be interesting for many potential customers.

The first projects with the new robot arms are already in the works, other projects will follow soon. It’s clear: In the future the industry and our private life will be increasingly influenced by the cooperation of humans and robots.

Further information about the companies: www.fp-robotics.com , www.maxonmotor.com

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