Emerging Technology

Wanted: agile robots

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The National Institute of Standards and Technology will hold a national competition to make robots more agile, in the hopes of removing what the institute said is "a major obstacle" to manufacturers adopting robotics.

Today's robots are hindered by the amount of offline programing they require, according to NIST. Programming a robot to integrate it into a manufacturing operation can make up 45 to 60 percent of the cost of deploying a robot, the institute said in announcing the new competition.

The Agile Robotics for Industrial Automation Competition is still in its planning stages, and organizers will reveal the specific challenges for the competition in August. The IEEE Conference on Automation Science and Engineering is also supporting the competition.

Making a robot more capable of adapting to changing manufacturing demands will mean making strides in four areas, according to NIST: detecting failure in a manufacturing process; automated planning to cut down on programming time; working on manufactured parts whose location is not predefined; and "plug-and-play" interoperability.

"We want to make sure that the challenges in this competition are truly representative of those facing industry," Craig Schlenoff, head of NIST's Cognition and Collaboration Systems Group, said in a statement.

Contestants will test their solutions in a computer model of a real manufacturing operation, the institute said, adding that it would use the competition to help develop metrics for measuring robotic agility.

The United States has 152 robots per 100,000 manufacturing employees, compared to 437 in South Korea, 323 in Japan, 282 in Germany and 30 in China, according to International Federation of Robotics data cited last June by the Wall Street Journal.  

About the Author

Sean Lyngaas is a former FCW staff writer.

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