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The Evolution of Robotic Manipulation

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Robotic Manipulation

In these days of the fourth Industrial Revolution, we’re seeing a lot of advances in robotics. This includes developments in robotic manipulation – that is, robots manipulating physical objects.

Robotic manipulation takes many forms, and enhances many different types of processes. There are different robot builds, and different robot features. Manipulating robots can also be relevant to other tech processes like:

  1. Internet of Things (IoT)
  2. Edge computing
  3. Machine-to-Machine (M2M) evolution

It’s an exciting time for companies to apply automation in workflows, anywhere that it makes sense. It may seem strange to see a robot “standing” holding an object and doing what used to be a human job, but it’s going to become much more normal as time goes on. 

Four Types of Robotic Manipulation Robots

Some experts talk about these four types of robots:

  • Cartesian
  • Cylindrical
  • Spherical
  • Articulated

Each of these types of robots manipulates items in different ways, applied specifically to workstations. For example, a Cartesian or “linear” robot may have a restricted range of motion compared to an articulated robot. Cartesian robots are commonly used with CNC Control boards and their respective machines. These are not the only kinds of robots used, but they are four common types. 

Robotic Manipulation: Use Cases

One of the most common use cases for robotic manipulation is in processing discrete items on a manufacturing line.

The robotic manipulator can do all sorts of things – grabbing or gripping the object to alter it in any way, to move it or reshape it or reposition it, or to pack it into a container. 

Other use cases include:

  • Moving physical pieces from one workspace area to another
  • Scanning barcodes
  • Arranging pieces for additional machine work

Some of these processes may complement computer vision for quality assurance. 

Computer vision through sensors and neural networks has come a long way in a short span of time, and is being applied along with the dexterity of manipulator robots. For example, a mobile robot with manipulating capabilities may be able to move to where items are, onboard them, and then manipulate them through a given process. This helps streamline the industrial automation process.

Types of Grippers

Many of these robots have grippers in order to allow them to hold objects. The following kinds of grippers are often put into robot manipulators:

  • Electric grippers
  • Pneumatic grippers
  • Magnetic grippers

In other cases, these types of machines may have other appendages, like under-actuated hands or soft material that will somehow grasp an object.

Robot Models 

Some of the research into manipulator robots is based on existing designs. For instance, there’s the KUKA iiwa, a lightweight model with a flexible platform, that is paving the way for industrial advances, handling all sorts of tasks, and responsive through a remote device. 

Then, in this and other designs, there’s the difference between open-loop systems, which do not involve feedback, and closed-loop systems, which typically do. As companies choose between features and functionality, they will also be choosing between simplicity and sophistication, according to the scope of what the company needs the robot to do. Those who are investigating may look at prototypes, research the physics of robotic interactions, and do due diligence with vendors, to get the right fit for a process. 

Human in the Loop Philosophy and Methodology

While robots can do more with physical objects, many companies still choose to have the robots working with humans, rather than on their own.

Experts call this ‘human in the loop’ methodology – where a human plays a role, either as an observer or a helper or programmer, and is relevant to the robot's function.

With that in mind, there are all kinds of applications for manipulating robots and other types of mobile robots as well.

Other types of mobile robots include:

  • Machine tenders
  • Workspace cleaners
  • Evaluating robots
  • Picking robots

The field of robot manipulation is continuing to improve. By looking at new types of models and methodologies, companies are pushing the envelope in terms of what they can accomplish with this type of industrial design. 

Think about how robotic manipulation can apply to a particular business use case and enterprise need. Is there a part of the business operation that could be done by a robot? 

This typically leads to quite a lot of cost savings and efficiencies for business, so it pays to pursue it in the context of modernizing processes.

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