Seiko Epson Shows Off Its Dual-Arm Robot

It's smart, adaptable, and looks like E.T.

2 min read
Seiko Epson dual-arm robot
Photo: Seiko Epson

Often equipped with two arms, strange hands, and even stranger-looking heads, a new breed of jack-of-all-trades industrial robot could change the face of automation. And the place to see the latest examples of these dual-arm manufacturing machines was the International Robot Exhibition (IREX) in Tokyo earlier this month.

We're putting together an in-depth article and video on the dual-arm, adaptable industrial robots we saw at IREX. But today we're going to focus on one of them, because that's a new robot we've never covered before.

It's a new prototype from Japanese electronics company Seiko Epson. The robot doesn't have a name yet (the company calls it simply "autonomous dual-arm robot"), but we can't help noticing that it looks like E.T. Epson plans to market it by early 2016.

Epson is no stranger to industrial manufacturing robots, boasting the lion's share of global SCARA robot sales (one model pictured below). However, specialized industrial robots aren't easily assigned new jobs, since they're often carefully integrated into permanent positions in the production line. In the past, the main solution has been manual labor. The new generation of adaptable robots could change that with a combination of sensing, delicate manipulation, and the ability to learn new tasks more easily.

Seiko Epson SCARA robot

"In the future, a commercial version of this autonomous dual-arm robot will make it possible to easily automate a wide range of tasks that previously had to be performed by hand," said Hideo Hirao, chief operating officer of Epson's industrial solutions division. The robot could be moved from one end of a production line, where it assembles goods, to the other end where it picks up and places objects into packages, he added.

Epson provides some more details in a press release:

"Epson's autonomous dual-arm robot is able to accurately recognize the position and orientation of objects in three-dimensional space. The two robot arms are equipped with newly developed force sensors that give the robot human-like control over the force exerted by the arms, enabling the robots to transport and assemble objects without damaging them. A multipurpose end effector can grasp, clamp, and insert objects of various shapes and sizes. The robot can be made to perform a wide range of tasks simply by teaching it objects and task scenarios."

If all that sounds like what we've heard about other robots like Rethink Robotics' Baxter, ABB's Frida, or Kawada Industries' Nextage, it's no coincidence. That's definitely one of the hottest trends in industrial robotics. However, there remains the rather important issue of price, which Epson is not yet ready to disclose. If the company's dual-arm robot has a competitive price, Epson—already a big player in the SCARA market—is in a strong position to enter this new era of manufacturing automation.

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The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

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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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