Creating Safe, Adaptable Robots

A bill has been introduced in Congress to combine the Commerce and Labor Departments, AIHA Government Affairs Director Aaron Trippler noted in his latest "Happenings" e-newsletter. Although unlikely, it might make sense given a project that is touted in a July 5 post on one of the Commerce blogs by Albert J. Wavering, chief of the Intelligent Systems Division of NIST's Engineering Laboratory. He discusses an ongoing project to develop the next generation of workplace robots.

Industry partners and NIST, a Commerce agency, are working on "performance measurements, standards, and tests that will enable robot builders and their manufacturing customers to evaluate how well new automation technologies meet safety requirements and to compare how different robots stack up," Wavering wrote.

He says this next generation of adaptable, versatile, smarter robots could lead to new U.S. companies and domestic jobs, improved manufacturing, and gains in U.S. companies of all sizes.

"A key aim is to develop affordable, readily adaptable robots that can assist -- and even empower -- human production workers," Wavering writes. "When people and robots can work together safely in the same space, a whole new class of more sophisticated jobs can be accomplished -- inspecting, assembling parts into complex shapes, fetching tools or materials, and more. Humans would be in charge, delegating tasks and redirecting robots to perform new chores."

NIST works with the Robotics Industry Association and ISO on robotic safety standards and with the American Society for Mechanical Engineers and the Industrial Truck Association on safety standards for automated guided vehicles, he wrote.

"The United States pioneered the development of robotic technology for manufacturing, a market now dominated by Europe and Asia," he added. "Capitalizing on our nation's strong research capabilities, we have a chance to leapfrog the competition and boost U.S. manufacturing performance, creating new jobs in the process -- jobs that will engage the minds and skills of future workers." He added that the Computing Community Consortium's roadmap for U.S. robotics offers a sense of where they might take us.

Posted by Jerry Laws on Jul 06, 2011

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