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Fraunhofer sol'n averts human-robot collision

Posted: 08 Jul 2011     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:safety solution  robotics  collisions  assembly 

In the ViERforES project supported by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Factory Operation and Automation IFF have developed a safety solution to prevent collisions between robots and humans working together.

At present, robots that assist humans are usually enclosed within protective barriers. Industrial safety regulations permit contact between people and robots only under certain conditions since the risk of injury to humans is very high. In order to allow human and robots to work collaboratively in the future, however, new technologies will have to define workplaces and safe zones, which humans may not enter or alternatively cause a robot to stop or slow down whenever a human enters the safe zone.

The ViERforES project claims to address this requirement with a novel solution that monitors such workplaces highly flexibly.

The safety system developed by the researchers employs conventional projectors and cameras, which are normally mounted on the ceiling. One distinctive feature of the system is its projection of monitored safe zones directly onto a floor or wall. Projected beams produce visible lines in the work area. Thus, humans recognise the safe zone right away and know how close they may get to a robot. The camera immediately detects any intrusion in the safe zone by an individual—the projected lines are disrupted. The robot decelerates at once. Optical and acoustic warning signals can additionally be generated. Another distinctive feature is the variability of marked areas' position and size and the capability to give them any shape—for instance, a circle, a rectangle or any freeform. "Since we employ common standard components, our system can be installed cost effectively. The projector and camera are calibrated and synchronised to one another," says Norbert Elkmann, Robotic Systems Business Unit manager at the Fraunhofer IFF. When a larger area needs to be monitored, the system can be extended as desired by additional projectors and cameras.

The monitoring system operates with modulated light. "The advantage of this is its reliability even under the effects of external light, e.g. sunlight and shadow. Present purely camera-based space monitoring systems operate independently of external light only to a limited extent," explains Elkmann. In addition, the experts can combine this system with robot controls and thus dynamically modify danger and safe zones. If, for example, a robot only works to the left of its workspace at times, the maximum robot workspace would not have to be monitored.

Elkmann and his team have filed a patent for their system. A prototype already exists. The potential applications of the projection and camera-based system are not merely limited to safe human-robot interaction. Other spaces in which safety is relevant, e.g. public buildings, can be monitored. The system can also be used wherever safe zones ought not to be perceptible—by projecting invisible light.





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