The University of Lincoln’s School of Computer Science has welcomed a new robot capable of sensing and manipulation in workspaces shared with humans – the first of its kind at the University.
The arrival of the new BAXTER robot at Lincoln’s Centre for Autonomous Systems heralds the start of a research project, supported by the Research Investment Fund (RIF), exploring the potential for human-robot collaboration within the manufacturing industries.
Led by Dr Marc Hanheide, the collaborative Manipulation for Adaptive Human-Robot Collaboration in Manufacturing (McMan) project will involve researchers from across the Schools of Computer Science and Engineering. Together they will use the new BAXTER robot as a test-bed and demonstrator for industry-relevant research into how humans and robots can work together to improve productivity, safety and efficiency in manufacturing workplaces, as well as safety-critical robot control.
The BAXTER robot is produced by Rethink Robotics as a cost-effective solution for businesses handling low-volume, high-mix production jobs. BAXTER has already been integrated into some factory workforces across North America to support employees with tasks involving the handling of light-weight products, such as line-loading and packaging.
At Lincoln, researchers will explore how BAXTER can be programmed using smart sensor technologies to create a prototype for human-robot collaborations, which can then be used as the basis for future studies.
Dr Hanheide, Reader in the School of Computer Science, said: “Facilitating closer human-robot collaboration in manufacturing has been identified as one of the key “technology clusters” where progress is most essential for Europe’s future. Enabling robots and humans to work more closely together will help SMEs to become more cost effective, and help citizens to improve the productivity and quality of their working lives.
“The integration of sensing and cognition technologies into robots is fundamental to enabling this collaboration, so that they can predict human motions, participate in joint tasks, ensure safety, and adapt to the needs and abilities of different individuals. The McMan project will build our capabilities to do precisely this. While some of our other research projects focus on autonomous robotics and engineering applications in manufacturing, developing a robot capable of sensing human and responding to human action is a new and very exciting research area for the University.”
The McMan team, which also includes Professor Tom Duckett from the School of Computer Science and Dr Argyrios Zolotas and Dr Andrea Paoli from the School of Engineering, will aim to hold an industry workshop as part of the project, to disseminate findings and explore new opportunities for research and collaboration with local and national manufacturing businesses.