Man and machine as a team

It gets exciting when people and machines work together. People benefit from the machine's help in the world of work and in their private lives - and sometimes the digital helpers almost take on human traits.

When one thinks of robots, at least the author of these lines thinks of machines that do the unloved work that is too strenuous or too monotonous for humans as the first machines to come to mind. On the assembly line in the automobile factory, for example: Under conditions like these, robots are ideal. They work precisely, quickly and continuously. They turn in screws, drill holes, set welds or rivets. In a way, they are perfect, but also boring.

Industry 4.0: The future will be exciting

It gets exciting when man and robot meet: Industry 4.0 is the keyword. "People, machines and products are directly networked with each other: the fourth industrial revolution has begun," says the author of this article, describing the idea of a new kind of cooperation between people and machines. The aim is to make the manufacture of products more flexible and changeable with advantages on the economic side. At the end of 2016, Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche spoke in an interview about industry 4.0 as the interaction of robots and humans with the help of artificial intelligence.

Important steps have been taken on the way to Industry 4.0. As early as 2014, there was an adaptive robot that could weld, rivet, grind and drill. CoWeldRob is the name of the assistant developed by researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation (IPA) in Stuttgart as part of the European research initiative SMErobotics. A skilled worker should be able to easily program CoWeldRob by learning from his human role model. Once the robot has reached a certain level of ability, it can even make its own suggestions as to how tasks can best be mastered.

A robot manufactured by Martin Mechanic is able to replace a classic CNC machine when processing glass and carbon fibre reinforced plastic. A great deal of technical know-how was required to give this robot the mobility to drill, mill and deburr the workpieces it is fed with the highest precision.

A robot that is child's play to program

The development of Franka, a collaborative robot called Cobot, is similarly ambitious. A team from Munich has invested six years of development work in this machine, which should also be particularly easy to program. No matter how much fun it may be to play with Franka, the inventors have one serious application in mind for Franka: She - or he - is to test the quality of smartphones, televisions and laptops in the electronics industry. For industrial customers, the use of Franka can be quite worthwhile: The system is expected to cost less than 10,000 euros. By the way, it gets a little scary when Franka builds its own system.

The example of the non-profit Isak GmbH in the Swabian town of Sachsenheim shows how robots and humans can complement each other in everyday working life. As the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reports, this is where the first workplace was created in which robots support people with disabilities. A project that has made company boss Thomas Wenzler and his company known beyond the borders of the region.

Robots maintain and paint aircraft

Robots are also used in aviation to relieve the strain on people. The British engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce recently attracted attention at the Farnborough International Airshow with its SWARM robot: The tiny robots are designed to inspect the interior of engines completely autonomously. The insect-like devices are expected to shrink from their current length of three centimeters to half size by the time they are ready for series production - a process that will take several years to complete.


Tiny SWARM robots could one day revolutionise the way Rolls-Royce maintains jet engines. © Rolls-Royce

A company from New Zealand has, however, developed a climbing robot for the inspection and maintenance of aircraft that is to be used by a Swiss company. This robot has the ability to work upside down and thus inspect hard-to-reach areas. The results of the investigations are recorded precisely. The Brazilian manufacturer Embraer provides a further example of the use of robots in the aviation sector: a painting robot has given the Legacy 650E business jet a paint finish that is as chic as it is complex.

The use of robots in the home and garden is almost everyday. Small, more or less clever helpers mow the lawn, keep the ground clean or recently even clean the windows. Admittedly: This does not have too much to do with the sophisticated robot techniques mentioned above. The judgments about the sense and nonsense of such devices are correspondingly divided - especially when they spy on their environment and send data to their manufacturers. On the other hand, Zenbo, a household companion from Asus, has a little bit of "number 5 lives". Small, cuddly and clever, this household robot is said to be, which in the meantime has been awarded various prizes.

Multitalented in space

A very special type of household robot is currently on board the International Space Station ISS. CIMON (Crew Interactive Mobile companiON) consists of a head the size of a basketball, which floats through the station. It will assist the team around the German astronaut Alexander Gerst with scientific experiments and everyday tasks, for example by displaying instructions on his screen. At the same time, CIMON wants to be an interlocutor for the human crew members. The artificial intelligence is provided by IBM, while Airbus and DLR are in charge of the project. During his stay in orbit, artificial intelligence will learn new things. NASA has another possibility in mind of how robots could make themselves useful in space: a project of the US space agency is dealing with robots that are supposed to repair satellites. Human beings on Earth could then take over their control.

Sometimes robots become more and more similar to humans - the media talk about "humanoid robots". They can ride a horse, ski or even somersault backwards. The latter is a feature of Atlas, developed by Bostondynamics. Atlas is extremely dynamic, which is also due to its design: in order to save weight and volume, 3D printing technology was used in its manufacture.

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