Robots in the workplace are no longer just something out of science fiction.
The pace of automation is accelerating in a wide range of industries, as robots take on roles that free humans from dangerous and repetitive jobs.
And it’s not just in factories and warehouses — robots are being developed for use in areas such as education, the hospitality industry, elderly care, rehabilitation and robot-assisted therapy, says the European Commission’s CORDIS website.
But as the frequency of human-robot interaction increases, so too does the risk of dangerous collisions.
To combat this risk, researchers in Germany — supported by two EU grants — have teamed up to create a new tool that helps designers create safer machines.
Building on a previous study that linked a robot’s collision behaviour to human injury data, the team compared entire robot designs (including the mass and velocity range of the robot’s workspace or task-dependent subspaces) to human injury data, taking into account whether the impact surface in a collision is blunt, sharp or edged, and whether the collision itself is constrained or unconstrained. This information is represented in a ‘safety map’.
According to the researchers, the safety map helps robot developers analyse the safety performance of their designs to determine whether the robot they are designing is capable of inflicting specific injuries during unexpected collisions. They can also pinpoint the most dangerous areas in the robot’s workspace and compare their robot with others in terms of safety characteristics.
This provides clear information about the injuries most likely to occur during operation, helping to guide the hardware design process and contributing to safe control and motion planning.The tool, described in a paper published in IEEE Xplore, has the potential to improve the way human-friendly robots are designed in the future.