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Saturday, 2 July 2011

Robotics: Safety without Protective Barriers

Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft Press and public relations
July 1, 2011

The modern working world is no longer conceivable without robots. They assist humans in manufacturing, laboratories or medicine. In the future, a new projection and camera-based system will prevent collisions between robots and humans working together.

A robot carefully lifts and positions a heavy component while a worker welds lightweight aluminum components to a machine right next to it. Although such scenarios are visions of the future at present, they will soon be part of the everyday work routine if industry has its way. Humans and robots will team up, especially on assembly jobs, and collaboratively employ their particular capabilities: Steel assistants could bring their power, durability and speed to bear and humans their dexterity and motor skills. At present, automated helpers are usually enclosed by protective barriers. Industrial safety regulations permit contact between people and robots only under certain conditions since the risk of injury to humans is too great. In order to allow their collaboration after all, new technologies will have to define workplaces and safe zones, which humans may not enter. A robot will stop or slow down whenever a safe zone is entered. In the ViERforES project supported by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Factory Operation and Automation IFF have developed a novel solution that monitors workplaces highly flexibly.
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