DIY industrial robotics and vehicle production in Second Life

A group of researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA has set up an automobile factory in the Second Life virtual world. Visitors can build their own quad-bike and then virtually drive it away.

The 'transparent factory' lets users program industrial robots, transport and assemble parts, paint the frame, and so on, while learning platforms located around the factory hall provide relevant background information: How is the production process controlled? How does a press work?

The user's Second Life character - called an avatar - can watch the production process and interact at certain stages, said IPA scientist Stefan Seitz. "We want to familiarise people with a modern, technically advanced factory. We also want to demonstrate how the latest media can set things in motion," he explained.

In the factory, users first indicate which quad model they would like to produce, he said. For instance, powerful or fuel-saving? Black, silver or red? What type of wheel rims? Once the avatar has made a choice, production can begin. The parts list is sent out, and components are manufactured, assembled and subjected to quality inspections.

"The main challenge lay in reproducing the control logic for production - in other words, teaching the system how to produce a part on Machine A, transport it to Machine B and mount it there. Until now, the Second Life platform has offered no support for this," Seitz said.

He added that the researchers have developed a modular system which also enables any other product to be made. Industrial companies and private users can use the building blocks to set up their own virtual factories. The IPA team has even integrated a speech recognition system, so the machines and robots can be controlled by phone.

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