SINGAPORE — Eureka Robotics, a startup spun out of Nanyang Technological University here, yesterday unveiled Archimedes, a new robot that can handle fragile optical lenses and mirrors with human-like dexterity.
Archimedes was developed by the same NTU Singapore team whose “IKEA Bot” last year autonomously assembled an IKEA chair in less than nine minutes.
The six-axis robot arm uses cameras and algorithms to plan its motion and how much force to exert in its grip. The system can mimic the dexterity of human fingers and the visual acuity of human eyes, claimed NTU Singapore.
Archimedes a pioneer in high accuracy and agility
Pham Quang Cuong, an NTU associate professor who founded Eureka Robotics, said Archimedes is different from other robots currently used in industry that have either high accuracy but low agility (where robots perform the same movements repeatedly), or low accuracy but high agility (such as robots handling packages of different sizes in logistics).
Archimedes is among the first robots with both high accuracy and high agility, or “HA-HA,” to be deployed on the manufacturing floor, claimed Pham.
The HA-HA concept was previously demonstrated by the NTU team in the “IKEA Bot,” which assembled an IKEA Stefan chair in 8 minutes and 55 seconds. It consisted of a 3D camera and two robotic arms equipped with grippers that could pick up tiny objects like wooden pegs and slot them into holes with sub-millimeter precision.
“With Archimedes, we have taken accuracy to the tens-of-microns level,” said Pham, who teaches at the NTU School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. “Its accuracy of placing objects is within a tenth of a millimeter, yet it does so with the gentleness of a human touch, made possible by our control algorithms.”
While the robot also takes a few hours to slot delicate optics into a designated tray just like a human operator, the operator can now focus on higher-level tasks after taking three minutes to start the robot on its job, said Pham.
Archimedes uses AI to analyze how many lenses there are and their respective sizes, then an algorithm plans the most efficient way to slot them onto the tray. An alert sounds once the task is complete, so the operator can remove the fully loaded tray, ready for the next manufacturing process.
AI-powered robots will also enable manufacturers to collect real-time data, which can be analyzed to improve their production processes, said NTU Singapore.
Archimedes is the latest innovation from Prof. Pham’s team, which has developed several robotics concepts, from autonomous planning and routing to advanced algorithms. For instance, last year, it demonstrated the use of two mobile robots to 3D-print a 1.8m (5.9 ft.) concrete structure concurrently without any conflict, and to even print while moving.
Academic focus on applications
This robotics research was supported by the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART). Its development from a lab concept into a prototype that is now going out to market is one example of technological translations taking place at the NTU Smart Campus.
Through its Smart Campus vision, NTU aims to harness the power of technology to support better learning and living experiences, the discovery of new knowledge, and the sustainability of resources in support of Singapore’s ambitions as a Smart Nation. NTU Singapore last month signed a $45 million deal with Delta Electronics to expand their research into innovative manufacturing systems.
The technology powering Archimedes is protected by a technology disclosure filed through NTUitive, NTU’s innovation and enterprise company, which is incubating Eureka Robotics and its team of six researchers on the NTU Smart Campus.
“By tapping on disruptive technologies such as robotics and AI to create unique products capable of improving existing work processes, Eureka Robotics is setting an example of what our startups need to do for Singapore to maintain its competitive edge,” said Dr. Lim Jui, CEO of NTUitive. “We are proud to have helped Associate Professor Pham and his team achieve their goal of delivering robotic solutions that will bring great value to their customers.”
The Robot Report is launching the Healthcare Robotics Engineering Forum, which will be on Dec. 9-10 in Santa Clara, Calif. The conference and expo will focus on improving the design, development, and manufacture of next-generation healthcare robots. Learn more about the Healthcare Robotics Engineering Forum, and registration is now open.
The robot can slot lenses and mirrors of different sizes into a custom loading tray, to get them ready for coating. This level of precision could benefit the manufacturers of optical products such as cameras, medical imaging, and eyewear because it eliminates defects in production and improves productivity, said NTU Singapore.
In 2017, the global market for optical instruments and lens manufacturing was worth $19.1 billion and is expected to reach $27 billion by 2022, according to Research and Markets.
Prof. Pham will unveil Archimedes at Industrial Transformation Asia-Pacific 2019, a leading Industry 4.0 trade show for Southeast Asia.
Eureka Robotics plans to deliver Archimedes to a U.S. laser optics manufacturer, after which it will look into adapting the platform for other types of manufacturing processes currently done with manual labor, such as drilling and tapping of custom machinery.
“Archimedes does laborious and repetitive tasks, so humans can be freed up to do more creative and meaningful work,” noted Pham. “Companies can then improve productivity, efficiency, work safety, manufacturing outputs, while optimizing labor.”