The field of AI and robotics continues to grow at an astounding pace, however, knowledge transfer between academia and industry can be hampered by the lack of testing facilities. There is a requirement to safely combine industrial-grade robotics with the flexibility required to conduct cutting-edge R&D. RACE’s new facility will assist in bridging the gap between academia and industry, helping to maintain the UK’s status as a world leader in robotics.
The Automated Inspection and Maintenance Test Unit (AIM-TU), which was commissioned shortly before the coronavirus outbreak, is a highly modular robot cell for research and development. Funded by EUROfusion, it has a range of available equipment, including:
- Two robots with 10kg payload and 1.3m reach, mounted on 1.3m stroke rails
- Grippers that can handle a variety of tooling options, including existing JET remote handling equipment
- Automated tool changers for increased versatility
- A range of vision sensors: wrist-mounted 2D cameras, depth cameras, polarisation cameras and event cameras
The safety system allows people to access the cell for teaching and development, whilst programs will only run at full speed when operators are safely outside. Programs can be run directly from the robots, from a cell PLC, or via ROS from an external PC. A digital twin of the cell is also available, allowing researchers to design tests in a virtual world, making their time in the cell more productive.
Sam Jimenez, Lead Mechanical Design Engineer, said: “The cell has a busy testing schedule ahead, but we are keen for it to be used as much as possible, whether that is the whole facility or elements of it. Much of the testing is focused on developing automated maintenance capabilities, allowing robots to perform maintenance tasks without human supervision for extended periods. Although the coronavirus outbreak has been disruptive, we are regrouping and plan to hit the ground running when we are back.”