VW Removing Barriers Between Robots and Workers

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February 15, 2018

By Graeme Roberts

Volkswagen Group is working on enhanced robots using a laser safety scanner which detects employee movements and enables human and machine to work together without safety barriers between the two.

A control system coordinates the movements of the human worker and the robot, slowing and stopping the robot as soon as the worker enters defined safety zones.

Robotic chief Martin Gallinger said: “Everyone is now talking about human-robot cooperation. To date, we have been concerned chiefly with cooperation with lightweight robots that weigh significantly less and carry lighter loads. Now we want to make industrial robots fit for cooperation with people. They can relieve the burden on human workers as large industrial robots can lift much heavier parts and pass them to people.”

In future, robots will be able to provide active support to people. Another advantage is the fact that existing robots can also be used for cooperation with people, saving the investment required for new robots.

For testing, Gallinger’s team has developed a prototype fit for use in series production together with Kuka (a major robot supplier), Keyence Deutschland and Fraunhofer. Color coding gives the employee a clear indication of where he can work without any impact on the robot (green). Safety zones are adjusted in response to the movement of the robot. If the human worker is in the yellow zone, the movement of the robot is slowed and stopped in the red zone.

The prototype confirms the technical feasibility of a new form of cooperation and an entirely new safety concept, VW said.

“In the next step, we will be intensively testing and optimizing the prototype together with our project partners, health and safety experts, and production employees. We intend to use their feedback to develop the system together to the point where it is fully fit for use in series production,” Gallinger added.

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