Is there a robot in your future?

The problem with reading predictions about the future, such as Ray Kurzweil's The Age of Spiritual Machines, or watching movies such as Steven Spielberg's Artificial Intelligence: AI, is that you might think that advanced, intelligent robots are just around the corner.

The problem with reading predictions about the future, such as Ray Kurzweil'sThe Age of Spiritual Machines, or watching movies such as Steven Spielberg's Artificial Intelligence: AI, is that you might think that advanced, intelligent robots are just around the corner. If we don't have a few in our homes or thousands in our factories today, then we'll have them soon enough. Yet it doesn't take long to be disabused of this fantasy when confronted by real-world vision systems and one-armed robots that remove engine blocks from a pallet in an automotive assembly plant.

The engineers, technicians, and craftsmen who work on plant floors are often skeptical of vision-guided robots, but these same people can readily see the advantages. At the October 2003 Machine Vision for Robot Guidance Workshop, sponsored by the Automated Imaging Association (Ann Arbor, MI, USA; www.machinevisiononline.com), it was clear to me that this conjoining of machine vision and robotics evokes great interest for many people involved in manufacturing.

Of course, the speakers at the workshop were not Hollywood directors like Spielberg or inventors like Kurzweil, who created reading machines for the blind, music synthesizers, and speech-recognition technology. Instead, the speakers were trying to address fundamental design issues such as how best to position lighting so that a camera can identify a part on a pallet before moving it ten feet to a conveyor belt.

The tasks for today's vision-guided robots are indeed mundane compared to the future painted by visionaries, but therein lies the allure as manufacturers seek to lower costs and implement efficient, accurate, and labor-saving changes to repetitive production processes. To explore some of these opportunities, ourMachine Vision for Robot Guidance supplement, beginning on p. 43, focuses on three applications in automotive manufacturing, with contributions from FANUC Robotics America (Rochester Hills, MI, USA; www.fanucrobotics.com), Motoman (West Carrollton, OH; www.motoman.com), and Braintech (North Vancouver, BC, Canada; www.braintech.com).

View on security

In addition to our technical articles, the Business Views section continues the new series of interviews with leading OEMs and end users. This month we talk to William Baukus from American Science and Engineering (Billerica, MA, USA; www.as-e.com), an x-ray systems manufacturer that buys and integrates many vision components and subsystems. You can be certain that the developments he describes in security and inspection technology will affect you and your business much sooner than a robot will cook your dinner.

W. Conard Holton
Editor in Chief
cholton@pennwell.com

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