4 Robotics Trends from the International Robot Exhibition 2013

Written by Amrith M

A mesmerizing display of robots was held at the International Robot Exhibition (IREX) in Tokyo.Robotics companies brought their latest and greatest robots to this exhibition.A wide variety of amazing advances in the field of robotics were seen there.

Some noteworthy robotic trends found there at the exhibition were:

1. Dual arm robots : Humans (and many other primates) rely on two arms to perform complex manipulation tasks, but industrial robots for a very long time have featured only single arms. The argument was that if a task needed two arms, you can buy two arms and mount them next to each other. The mainstream robotics companies resisted the idea of connecting two arms to a body and selling it as an integrated package. However, it appears that the industrial robots community has changed its mind over the last couple of years. Many companies at IREX were displaying new robots with two arms, including Seiko Epson, Nachi, ABB, and Kawada

2. Eyes on the hand : There are robots with cameras mounted close to their hands.This configuration gives robots unobstructed close-up view of the parts being manipulated. This idea was proposed more than 20 years ago, but there were reservations in implementing it on the shop floor due to concerns about acquiring quality images and registering the images with a fast moving camera.These challenges have been overcome and this configuration is featured on many robots. This capability will enable new advances in visual serving and enhance the accuracy in fine manipulation of objects previously unseen by the robot. Companies created robots that embraced the anthropomorphic configuration. In contrast, adding eyes to the hands of robots moves them away from an anthropomorphic configuration. Cameras are inexpensive, so robots can afford to have eyes on their limbs.This was also a highlight at IREX.

3. Wearable robots: There were many different kinds of robots on display that people could wear to enhance their capabilities, ranging from walking assist devices to exoskeletons. Some of these robots are targeting the physical therapy and rehabilitation market to help people recover from injuries or loss of motor functions due to medical complications (a stroke, for example). Some robots are targeting the assistive technology market to help people cope with diminished abilities due to aging or other medical conditions. It appears that the robotics industry has combined high efficiency actuators, lightweight structural materials, and new battery technologies to finally create useful products. Wearable robots are expected to positively impact the quality of life as the average human lifespan continues to increase due to the advances in medicine. They also provide new ways to carry out physical therapy and rehabilitation. The Walking Assist Device from Honda and the HAL robot suit from Cyberdyne were two out of these types presented there.

4. High-speed pick-and-place robots based on parallel kinematics: Parallel-kinematics-based robots hold significant promise because the actuators can be placed near the base of the robot, significantly reducing the inertia of the moving links and enabling high speed operation. every major company was featuring high-speed pick-and-place robots based on parallel kinematics. This is not a new technology, of course, but it’s great to see that companies are reporting impressive workspace sizes, high repeatability, and large payload capacity for an ever expanding range of applications. These robots are bringing speeds comparable to the hardware-based fixed automation to the new era of flexible, programmable automation. The ABB FlexPicker and a FANUC pick-and-place robot illustrates this trend.


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Amrith M

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