Is CoHaptics the Next Step in Cobot Safety?
What is CoHaptics, and how are institutions and companies applying this concept to industrial robots and cobots to promote safety?
The Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Skoltech) is an academic institution of science and technology founded in partnership with MIT in 2011. The primary objective for Skoltec is to create an educational platform for the next generation of science, technology, and business leaders.
Skoltech has an industrial immersion program where students choose different industry partners to work with within an industrial immersion internship. A total of 14 students in the program chose the company Sber, a leading technology company in Russia.
The goal of the internship is to help students apply their education in real-life scenarios, giving them a broader understanding of the industries they will be moving into after graduation.
Students at Skoltech working with a cobot in a robotic cell. Image used courtesy of the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology
“The first thing we say to our new students is that basic science is great, but it should be usable in real life. I am happy that Sber gives our students the opportunity to work on practical tasks and find the right solutions meeting Sber’s needs.” mentioned Alexander Kuleshov, President of Skoltech.
Sber’s internship includes teaching students about their motion prediction software designed to help autonomous cars predict obstructions while driving, for example, pedestrians or other cars.
Safety for Cobots
A cobot is a short phrase for a collaborative robot. They are made to work in applications where human workers need help with laborious, repetitive tasks. Cobots can be programmed quickly, and most of the thinking is done by human logic while the cobot handles the brunt of the work.
A cobot working in an industrial facility alongside humans.
Since cobots work directly with humans, and there is no separation by safety fence or light curtains, they have specific safety parameters to operate under.
Safety is a major concern in the cobot world. Much like Sber’s software for autonomous vehicles, cobots need to perceive their environment to either predict or perceive collisions.
In most cases, cobots move slowly to reduce the risk associated with collisions and to give their human co-workers more time to move out of the way if necessary. Robots can be very powerful and dangerous, so cobots are often more perceptive of collisions than traditional robotics in harsh environments.
Recent research from Skoltech has explored the concept of CoHaptics, a system where cobots are more perceptive of human movements and humans are alerted of the position of the robot through haptics.
A photo demonstrating how the cobot works with CoHapitcs technology. Image used courtesy of CoHaptics: Development of Human-Robot Collaborative System with Forearm-worn Haptic Display to Increase Safety in Future Factories
Haptics, in the case of cobots, are touch-based information relay systems. This could be done through a worker wearing something that relays information through vibration. When a cobot is nearing a worker or nearing the cobot, vibration is sent through a wearable bracelet.
A human working alongside a cobot from Universal Robots. Image used courtesy of Universal Robots
The bracelet can also relay information to the cobot avoidance algorithm so the cobot can make adjustments to its path when a collision is unavoidable otherwise. The use of CoHaptics serves as a unique way of improving cobot safety while potentially increasing productivity through collision avoidance.
In traditional cobot safety, when the worker is too close or the robot stops because of a collision, the system will remain completely stopped until the safety is reset. With CoHaptics, collisions can potentially be avoided, increasing uptime for the system.
It is also useful because the worker will be alerted when they are too close to the robot, further reducing the chance of collision.
Do you think CoHaptics could help cobot and robot safety on the factory floor?