Many tasks involving the handling of deformable objects – from surgery to packaging and food handling to automobile manufacturing – are done by skillful human operators. Advances in technology could one day have robots doing such work. The EU-funded SOFTMANBOT project will provide an innovative and holistic robotic system for the handling of flexible and deformable materials within labour-intensive production processes. Its system will include smart dexterous grippers that will enable grasping and manipulation skills with integrated sensors (mainly tactile). The project will test the technology in industrially relevant environments in four key manufacturing sectors (toy, textile, footwear and tyre). The findings will contribute to technological advances to help robots play a bigger role in European factories.
SOFTMANBOT is an industrial-end-user driven project that will provide an innovative and holistic robotic system for the handling of flexible and deformable materials within labour-intensive production processes. The robotic system will be composed by three main pillars including a generic robotic perception system (perception of the product and the human operator), a multi-sensor control and planning platform (advanced control algorithms for shape and contact servoing, AI based task generalization) and smart dexterous grippers (smart mechanical design which will embody grasping/manipulation skills and integrate sensors – mainly tactile – for identifying precisely the contact state between the product and the gripper) able to handle soft components with high-levels of robustness and flexibility. The automation solution is aimed to work in close collaboration with human operators in order to help them in the execution of contact-based challenging tasks so that the productivity and job quality will be boosted which will highly contribute to bring back production to Europe. Special attention will be paid to the integration of novel robotic concepts based on aspects of safety, ergonomics, adaptability, acceptance and user experience. In order to facilitate the assessment of the performance, transferability, scalability and large scale deployment of these solutions, the demonstrations will be conducted under real industrially relevant environments in four pilot demonstrators involving four key manufacturing sectors – toy, textile, footwear and tyre –. The project is not just aiming at quantitative improvements brought by cutting-edge technologies in a specific sector, but to use technology innovation to support a change of paradigm where handling of soft materials with the involvement of robots become a feasible and widespread alternative for European factories, specially SMEs.