Humanoid robots to manufacture planes

17 February 2016
By Jack Loughran
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Humanoid robots may one day relieve human engineers when carrying out difficult and dangerous tasks

Humanoid robots may one day relieve human engineers when carrying out difficult and dangerous tasks

Humanoid robots that can carry out difficult tasks during plane manufacturing are being developed by Airbus and the Joint Robotics laboratory.

Using humanoids on aircraft assembly lines will make it possible to relieve human operators of the most laborious and dangerous tasks, thus allowing them to concentrate on more valuable tasks that cannot be carried out by machines.

The four year project will attempt to research and develop solutions for a number of issues around using humanoid robots in manufacturing.

One of the most prominent difficulties for these robots will be to work in a confined environment and move without colliding with the numerous surrounding objects.

This is the first issue researchers will have to solve by developing new algorithms for the planning and control of precise movements.

Due to the size of aircraft, and the very high number of tasks that need to be executed on a limited number of units, the use of specialised fixed-base robots, like those already in use by the automotive industry, is impossible in the aeronautical industry.

Using humanoid robots allow much greater versatility than their stationary counterparts with their ability to enter confined spaces and traverse stairs and ladders that are typically designed for human use.

The Joint Robotics Laboratory has already developed humanoid robots, called HRP-2 and HRP-4, that it will use as a platform to test newly researched capabilities. They are slightly shorter than an average human and about half the weight.

When entering cramped spaces, the robots will need to assume positions and postures that have proved difficult for computers to comprehend due to their relative mathematical complexity.

The researchers said they are also developing new algorithms that are much more powerful than existing ones in order for the robots to undertake activities in confined areas while keeping the calculations sufficiently fast in order for the movement of the robot to remain efficient.

Typical tasks to be executed by robots include, for instance, tightening a bolt, cleaning metallic dust from an area, or inserting parts in the structure of an airplane. They could also verify that systems are functioning properly once manufacturing is complete.

Swiss firm ABB has recently developed an automated robot for use in manufacturing that is intended to boost productivity.

The human-sized collaborative robot, YuMi, is designed for the UK market and its makers hope it will shift the country’s lukewarm attitudes to automation.

A video of ABB’s robot can be seen below:

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