At this year’s Hannover Messe, Microsoft and industrial robots manufacturer KUKA are demonstrating how they have blended IT with robotic technologies to create a smart, lightweight robot that is able to work safely and productively alongside humans in a factory environment.
KUKA’s Intelligent Industrial Work Assistant (KUKA LBR iiwa) is built using Microsoft Azure Internet of Things (IoT) services, Kinect hardware and the OPC-UA communication standard, which enables it to sense its way around a complex task and perform precise automation movements. The robot has safe torque sensors in every axis and is suited for tactile solutions and gripper systems.
Hannover Messe attendees can see the robot in action on the Microsoft booth (hall 7, booth C48), where it is performing the complex and delicate action of threading a tube into a small hole in the back of a dishwasher.
Tasks like this could not previously be carried out by traditional robots because they could not sense their surroundings, and their automatic movements would often break the appliance.
The robot works by streaming its movement data to the Azure cloud where workers can monitor progress, receive status reports from the factory floor and address errors in the supply chain in real time through Windows tablets. They can also drill into the data via a management dashboard for business analytics and trend intelligence. So, for example, if a certain piece of the dishwasher is breaking more frequently than other pieces, advanced data stream analysis can help understand what may be causing the issue or use predictions to recommend pre-emptive repairs with machine learning technology.
“Robots serve as the link between IT and production, between humans and technology,” said Dr Christian Schlögel, CTO of KUKA. “The showcase we created together with Microsoft is one example of how this link can be used in the future and how our KUKA technologies are ready for Industry 4.0. It’s exciting to be at the forefront of sensitive robotics and to create the technology to allow humans to interact directly, increasing efficiency and productivity.”
What’s unique about KUKA LBR iiwa is that it allows humans and robots to work together on highly sensitive tasks in close proximity. According to Microsoft, the LBR iiwa is also an important milestone on the road to service robotics.
“This technology is a true evolution of human-robot collaboration and showcases what the future can hold in this space,” said Caglayan Arkan, general manager of Worldwide Manufacturing at Microsoft.
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