Franka: A Robot Arm That’s Safe, Low Cost, and Can Replicate Itself

This factory robot can be trusted not to kill its human coworkers

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Sami Haddadin once attached a knife to a robot manipulator and programmed it to impale his arm. No, it wasn’t a daredevil stunt. He was demonstrating how a new force-sensing control scheme he designed was able to detect the contact and instantly stop the robot, as it did.

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Now Haddadin wants to make that same kind of safety feature, which has long been limited to highly sophisticated and expensive systems, affordable to anyone using robots around people. Sometime in 2017, his Munich-based startup, Franka Emika, will start shipping a rather remarkable robotic arm. It’s designed to be easy to set up and program, which is nice. But what makes it special is that, unlike typical factory robots, which are so dangerous they are often put inside cages, this arm can operate right next to people, assisting them with tasks without posing a risk.

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