Parallel Link Robots: Manipulation Too Fast for the Eye

Parallel link manipulators to perform assembling and sorting tasks are becoming faster and more accurate

1 min read

Last November the International Robot Exhibition (IREx) took place here in Tokyo, with more than 100,000 visitors coming to see the latest robotic creations by universities, research institutes, start-ups, and also the large, worldwide known industrial robot makers. The area of industrial robotics was very large, as usual, and apart from the choreography of massive assembly and welding robots, I was not expecting to see anything new. I was wrong! It turns I was quite amazed by the superfast parallel link manipulators presented there.

These manipulators, like the ABB IRB 360 shown in the video below, are able to move so fast and with such a degree of accuracy that it becomes difficult to follow them by eye. 

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The features that impressed me the most were the links made of carbon fiber, to reduce inertia and increase operational speed, and the link mechanisms installed to control the orientation of the end-effector.

In the video above we can see the ABB IRB 360 operating with a high-speed vision system to collect parts and arrange them according to the colors, forming pre-defined patterns, rotating each part so that they be aligned.

The task of destroying the pattern and placing the parts randomly on the conveyor belt for the robot to assemble them, however, was still done by a human (not shown in the video). Some things are better left to humans...

UPDATE: The IRB 360 is also a skilled pancake handler!

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The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

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A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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