New generation robots will perform sophisticated tasks
The Robonaut 2 or R2
The Robonaut 2 also known as R2 has a torso, refined arms and fingers, and a head filled with sensors. It was developed by the scientists of NASA and General Motors (GM)jointly. Their main goal was to create a robot that can work safely with humans and R2 is very efficient to carry out dangerous or tedious tasks in space and at the ground.
series elastic actuators
The recent improvements in technologies such as vision processing and gripping has completely changed the scenario. Earlier they were only used for repetitive jobs like welding or painting in a car factory.
R2 utilizes a latest robotics technology called “series elastic actuators” in its joints. The actuators have an elastic spring element connecting the motor and the object the robot is ordered to pick up. The actuators help the robot to detect the object and control the force of its own movements.
Rodney Brooks, a cofounder of iRobot and founder of Heartland Robotics said, "The use of series elastic actuators changes the whole approach to manufacturing robots. It makes the robot able to safely interact with people." They have been manufacturing low-cost, flexible manufacturing robots and have licensed the series elastic actuator.
The USA government is also encouraging the new developments in robotics. Last month President Obama announced a $70 million federal investment in robotics. The US government’s partners in this venture are Ford, Caterpillar, MIT, Carnegie Mellon University, and others.
The superiority of R2’s controls come from the series elastic actuators that let it feel the force of objects. Earlier robots were only able to calculate the position of the objects.
R2’s fingers can hold up to five pounds and it can even dial an iPhone. That’s the rare delicacy of human like fingers which no other robot had before. Marty Linn, principal robotic engineer for GM forecasted that R2 hand and arm technology will be a vital part of the new breed of robots.
Future seems bright
Rodney Brooks also explained the importance of this technology in simple words as he said, "Traditionally, industrial robots have to do things by very precise position control. Once you have force control, you can be less precise and operate like a human. Then it's much easier to program the robot to do assembly."
At present General Motors employ about 2,500 new robots every year, and has around 20,000 to 25,000 robots in their factories all over the world. The new breed of robots like R2 will not do any bulky job rather they will do meticulous and sophisticated tasks. These robots will handle the screws, handles, airbag and blind-spot warning sensors.