The Quicker Picker

B4T's salute to industrial robots!
July 12th, 2009 - Alexis

We rarely say anything about industrial robots here at Bots 4 Tots. It’s a shame, really; industrial robots are an oft-overlooked facet of the world of robotics as it exists today, one that needs recognition now more than ever. Think of a robot, a real life robot such Asimo, and recognize that it’s robotic-great-grandparents were probably employed on an assembly line. Take a walk with us, if you will, through the fascinating Arcadia of industrial robotics!

As you can probably tell from posts such as GOAL!!! Robocup 2009! and Chicago Hosts Int’l Robot Show, many of the awesome robotics events that are held around the world are actually fun ways to display the current capabilities of robots for potential investors in industrial robotics. The advances that we have seen just this past year in the varieties of fields that the robotic sciences apply to, from the scientific (Garden Bots, Robots Simulate Evolution) to the social/artistic (Robot Rolls, Rocks, Tweenbots Capture Hearts)… these advances would arguably not have been possible without the precedent set by robots used in industrial and commercial settings*!

“The first digitally operated and programmable robot, the Unimate, was installed in 1961 to lift hot pieces of metal from a die casting machine and stack them. Today, commercial and industrial robots are in widespread use performing jobs more cheaply or with greater accuracy and reliability than humans.” source

The world-wide interest in robotics (beyond science-fiction, that is) saw its coming-of-age not so long ago, around the 1970s, when American companies such as General Electric and General Motors made huge investments with Japanese partners to change the way their factories produced. Development needs funding, and obviously huge conglomerates such as these were willing and able to provide the impetus for the leaps and bounds we have seen in the field of robotics since the seventies. Today, the field of robotics is seeing a new dawn wherein normal every day people like Don and I are building robots in our spare time, and even teaching kids to do so as well. But, as you can see from the video above, the industrial robot has become far more sophisticated than its predecessors.

Meet the FlexPicker, an example of the latest advancements in industrial robotics. It can sort items with a mass of under one hundred grams in as little as three tenths of a second. THREE TENTHS OF A SECOND! People… that’s the average reaction time to visual stimuli in most animals (source)! And consider that the FlexPicker is doing almost the same thing: it analyzes images taken, visual stimuli for all intents and purposes, from a camera mounted on the robot. I, for one, am impressed. This is not like the kind of speed we have come to expect from a bullet, for instance. This is an autonomous interpretation and relay the likes of which have never been known to mankind outside of that which occurs organically! Oh, and did I mention that it is fully washable? I cannot even say that about my cats!

By the way, thanks to our friends at BotJunkie for the video!

So, as our last homage to industrial robots, I would like to post this video as well: the Adept Quattro. It claims to be the fastest industrial robot, “with cycle times faster than any other robot of its kind” source, but I couldn’t find the exact cycle time. Either it’s an industry secret, or the information hasn’t been updated in the admittedly fast-paced world of robot rivalry. But it’s definitely worth a watch. Which one do you think is faster? I find it’s hard to tell; the snappy music for the FlexPicker makes it seem faster, but that’s unfair.

*I find it interesting to note, in respect to the seminal influence industrial robotics has had on the field of robotics, this little tidbit: “The field of robotics may be more practically defined as the study, design and use of robot systems for manufacturing.” source

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