Robotic innovations, safety

Cover story: U.S. robotic safety regulations are changing to accommodate global rules allowing collaborate human-robots operation without enclosures. Simpler programming methods and designs improve industrial robot usability, flexibility, and effectiveness, as applications show.


Robotic innovations, safety - April 2013 - Control Engineering cover photo courtesy: Universal Robots

U.S. robotic safety regulations are changing to accommodate global rules allowing collaborate human-robots operation without enclosures. Simpler programming methods and designs improve industrial robot usability, flexibility, and effectiveness, as applications show. The following articles, edited to fit onto print pages, are linked to full-length versions below, with many photos, and additional links for more information.

New robotic safety regulations are pending - Robotics, subject to many safety regulations, are about to get a few more, addressing some technological advances for robots. See video summary. 

Optimizing analysis of sugar beets at Nordic Sugar - Nordic Sugar worked with a distributor to install user friendly, reliable robots without enclosures or robotic experts.

6 tips for collaborative robots - Rodney Brooks, chairman and CTO, Rethink Robotics, explained that robots don’t need smarter users; they need to have user interfaces that match users’ capabilities. By redesigning one interface to be more like a game controller and less like the brain of an MIT engineer, users were able to use 85% of one robot’s capabilities within five minutes. Brooks said a collaborative robot should 1) require no integration; a complete system should work out of the box; 2) need no programming or training; it should be usable in minutes; 3) be very capable; 4) work intelligently, with knowledge about its environment, including automatic error recovery; 5) be safe to operate, even if the operator gets hit at full velocity; and 6) have an extensible platform. Brooks spoke about robot survival at the Robotics Industry Forum in February, organized by the Robotic Industries Association (RIA). Learn more about the robot Baxter in this Control Engineering Rethink Robotics interview.

Open-source robotic software advances at kickoff meeting - ROS-Industrial Consortium (RIC) met with 14 organizations interested in fostering advanced manufacturing technologies enabled by open-source software. Learn about five possible projects.

Automaker changes gears without changing grippers - As part of an automaker’s strategy for automated transmission operations, an original equipment manufacturer eliminates costly changeovers by using electric grippers.

Online extras - related online material not appearing in this cover story

Robotic poll results

Control Engineering home page poll questions recently asked questions about robotics.

For a robotic application, what return on investment (ROI) is required to justify? Other benefits trump ROI was selected by 68% of respondents; 11% said 19-24 months.

Would you consider buying or integrating robots for your facility with return on investment less than one year that could work side-by-side with operators and other workers, without an enclosure? Among respondents 69% said “No,” 1% said “unlikely,” 20% said “yes,” and 9% said “likely.”

How many robots do you expect to augment the safety and efficiency of your facility during 2013, ultimately preserving and adding jobs? Among respondents, 80% said more than 50 robots.

For additional poll findings, visit the poll results at 

3 ways robots can succeed - checklist for robotic survivalRobot designers who ignore one or more of three principles are doomed to fail, according to a roboticist with 22 patents who has worked for three robot companies and MIT Robotic Lab. Joseph L. Jones, co-founder and chief technology officer, Harvest Automation, spoke about robot survival at the Robotics Industry Forum in February. Successful robots should 1)  Do something that lots of people want done; 2) Be built with existing technology, and 3) Be cost-competitive with current solutions. While this seems perfectly logical, roboticists often ignore these, Jones said, dooming projects to failure. With any mobile robotic design, there are six system challenge areas: application system (sensors, actuators, and software), navigation, hazards, mobility, power, and the interface, Jones said. 

Go Online: manufacturing, other robots, justification

At, search on “robot” or “robotics” and browse new products, other case studies. Search on “10 reasons to buy a robot” for justification. Watch for additional robotic coverage monthly.

Also see the Control Engineering Machine Safety blog, with more safety advice about codes, standards, and best practices related to machine safety.

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