Festo's BionicWorkplace: Human-Robot Collaboration With Artificial Intelligence

Wednesday, May 16th, 2018 | 2099 Views

BionicWorkplace—a ground-breaking working environment was presented by Festo at the Hannover Messe 2018 trade fair, enabling flexible production down to batch size one for the factory of the future.

Short product life cycles and a high diversity of variants are requirements brought about by industrial change. It is also becoming increasingly important to ensure that employees can rapidly and intuitively adapt to new tasks.

This requires new forms of collaboration between people, machinery and software. A key role is played here by self-learning systems with artificial intelligence and by robot-based automation solutions that can work hand-in-hand with the human operator and can form networks with each other. All these requirements are fulfilled by the BionicWorkplace.

The future of production is flexible—in terms of the products manufactured, the workplace and the design of the working environment. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are transforming workplaces into learning systems that constantly develop and optimally adapt themselves to the requirements at hand.

Festo is demonstrating this with the BionicWorkplace, in which a human works together with a bionic robotic arm, along with numerous assistance systems and peripheral devices that are connected and communicate with each other. The operator is supported in these tasks by technology that relieves him or her of tiring or hazardous activities.


A Learning System Based On Sensors And Artificial Intelligence

The entire workplace is ergonomically designed and can be individually adapted to people, right down to the lighting. Sensors and camera systems register the positions of the operator, components and tools, so that humans can intuitively control the BionicCobot with gestures, touch or speech.

A software system processes all the camera images and input from the various peripheral devices simultaneously. It uses this information to derive the optimal programme sequence, and learns from each action initiated to constantly optimise itself. Controlled, programmed and set sequences therefore gradually make way for a freer method of working.


Sharing Knowledge And Making It Globally Available

Once learnt and optimised, processes and skills of the Bionic Workplace can be easily transferred to other similar systems in real time, and made available worldwide. It will be possible in future, for example, to integrate workplaces into a global network in which knowledge modules can be shared; communication would be effected in various national languages.

Production will become more flexible and decentralised: the operators could call up production orders via internet platforms, for instance, and carry them out autonomously in cooperation with the machinery—in keeping with individual customer desires and requirements. Workplace remote manipulation is also conceivable.


The BionicCobot As A Central Element

A key component of the working environment is the pneumatic lightweight “BionicCobot”—modelled on the human arm. Its movements are generated by compressed air, which makes it flexible; it can therefore directly and safely interact with people.

This is made possible by digitalised pneumatics: the Festo Motion Terminal used together with the BionicCobot creates new solution spaces for safe human-robot collaboration and enables the BionicCobot to perform either rapid and powerful, or soft and delicate movements.


Scenario For Individual Production

At the Hannover Messe, a scenario is being demonstrated for the manufacture of an individual product at the Bionic Workplace. To produce an individual model of a head, for example, a laser cutter first slices sections of acrylic glass: a software programme converts the stored a person’s facial features scanned using a smartphone into a CAD model, which it then breaks down into separate slices.

The laser cutter then cuts the elements out of acrylic glass on the basis of this 3D template. The BionicCobot takes the slices directly from the cutter and gives them to the operator in the right sequence, who then assembles them to make a unique model.

The constant automatic feed of material in this scenario is ensured by a Robotino, which autonomously travels back and forth between the stations and safely finds its way by means of a laser scanner.

It is loaded by a refined version of the BionicMotionRobot—a soft robotic structure with pneumatic compartments and a 3D woven textile covering. This configuration combines all key elements of robot technology.