Southwest Research Institute launches Collaborative Robotics Laboratory for manufacturing and heavy industry automation

Tuesday August 28, 2018
Written by Southwest Research Institute
The new Collaborative Robotics Laboratory at Southwest Research Institute features safe work areas where engineers develop advanced capabilities for “cobots” that can be ported to larger industrial robots.
The new Collaborative Robotics Laboratory at Southwest Research Institute features safe work areas where engineers develop advanced capabilities for “cobots” that can be ported to larger industrial robots. Southwest Research Institute
August 28, 2018 - Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) has unveiled the Collaborative Robotics Laboratory to provide advanced automation technology to the heavy industry and manufacturing sectors.

The facility, located in San Antonio, Texas, features collaborative robots, or “cobots,” in a flex-lab where engineers develop agile, mobile, automated capabilities. Lab facilities include meeting rooms for industry events and training.

“Cobots, when combined with adaptive perception-rich software, can perform complex tasks safely next to humans,” said Paul Evans, director of SwRI’s manufacturing and robotics technologies department. “Demand for SwRI’s technical expertise in these areas inspired this capital investment in next-generation robotics.”

While conventional industrial robots are typically walled off from humans for safety, cobots are different. They work alongside human operators performing manual tasks and heavy lifting. SwRI develops deep-learning algorithms, perception technologies and advanced path-planning capabilities that enable cobots to collaborate with humans while performing multiple tasks.

“The lab’s goal is to demonstrate how robots and humans can interact in safe, mutually beneficial ways,” Evans said. “Our projects often work across disciplines like biomechanical engineering, robotics and software development.”

Engineers use the lab as a test bed for software development, working in close proximity to smaller cobots before porting advanced capabilities to larger industrial robots. The SwRI-managed ROS-Industrial Consortium also uses the lab for open-source Robot Operating System (ROS) projects, including a robotic arm that fuses markerless motion capture technology with machine learning to autonomously pick and place objects from human hands.

The Collaborative Robotics Laboratory will support client projects, internal research, industry workshops, software development, and manufacturing assistance with science and engineering solutions from SwRI’s diverse technical disciplines, ranging from deep sea to deep space and everything in between.

The lab’s meeting space has already hosted workshops, code sprints and training. The SwRI-managed Texas Manufacturing Assistance Center (TMAC) South Central region is also developing courses to learn about integrating robotics into operations and supply chains.

“We want to introduce small- and medium-sized manufacturers to robots that will support the workforce while creating career opportunities for skilled human operators,” Evans added.

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