The product design and development firm, Cambridge Consultants, has created a breakthrough in the food chain. The team there has created a robot designed to handle complex tasks like sorting fruits and vegetables or removing specific weeds from a field.
“Traditional robots struggle when it comes to adapting to deal with uncertainty,” said Chris Roberts, head of industrial robotics at Cambridge Consultants. “Our innovative blend of existing technologies and novel signal processing techniques has resulted in a radical new system design that is poised to disrupt the industry.”
While robots have been an integral part of many industries for a long time, they’ve specialized in doing repeated tasks over and over with great accuracy. Where they fail is at adapting a routine to accept small changes or variations. For example, robots are a great help in a factory where parts are always identical and things move in repeated ways.
Contrast this with the task of picking up fruit and vegetables in a warehouse. To succeed at this, robots must be able to work around people, cope with irregular items, and adapt to a changing environment. Designing a robot that is able to pick a number of different items like fruit requires many tasks to be performed – from recognising the correct objects and calculating what order to pick them in, to planning the grip, and the lifting and placing of the items.
“Our world-class industrial sensing and control team has combined high-powered image-processing algorithms with low-cost sensors and commodity hardware to allow ‘soft’ control of robots when the task is not rigidly defined,” said Roberts. “The system is capable of handling objects for which no detailed computer-aided design (CAD) model exists – a necessary step to using a robot with natural objects which, although they share some characteristics, are not identical.
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“The robot system demonstrates what is possible when you bring together experts from different fields to solve a problem. We’ve combined our programming, electronics and mechanical engineering expertise with our machine vision and robotics skills to demonstrate the kind of smart system that could transform a variety of industrial and commercial processes,” Roberts says.