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Motors key in evolution of humanoid robotics

Motors key in evolution of humanoid robotics

Humanoid robots could bring a new level of practicality and utility to industrial and service applications. The field is still in its infancy, but miniature motors that deliver high power from extremely compact packages are helping to drive its development.


Robots explore other planets, produce cars, aid surgeons, perform agricultural duties, move components around manufacturing plants, and more. They do not, however, often resemble the science fiction depictions of robots. Instead, they move around like flat trollies on wheels or are permanently installed as bulky machines in industrial halls. Humanoid robots with eyes and ears, arms and legs are still in their early stages of development, but a division of Dongbu Robot is well advanced with work in this field.

Korean company Dongbu manufactures many different types of robots. Its industrial robots, for example are used in, among other places, semiconductor production where they collect the highly sensitive silicon wafers following a production step and precisely position them for the next step. These machines are immovably anchored at the production site. In addition, the company produces service robots that clean floors, patrol rooms as automated guards or guide and inform visitors. These travel on wheels and have a box-shaped housing. What both types of robots have in common is their computing capacity and their motor power for completing a small number of narrowly defined tasks. In doing so, they use their resources very efficiently. They are not, however, particularly versatile.

Development of humanoid robots presents a number of difficulties, not least in that walking on two legs is far more complex than precisely controlled movement on wheels. Human movement is a complex interaction between some 200 muscles, numerous complicated joints and various specialised regions of the brain. On top of this, human biomechanics leave much to be desired in terms of energy efficiency. The unfavourable lever ratios of arms and legs require high power effort for relatively modest results.

Dongbu Robot is doing much to advance the possibilities for humanoid robots, in particular with its Hovis series of 35cm tall, servo-driven mechanical men. Their movements are provided by Dongbu Robot's HerkuleX servo actuators, which comprise a drive motor, a high-performance gearhead, an encoder and a communication interface, all packaged within a sturdy plastic housing. The encoder ensures that the servo always exactly knows its current position. It also translates the control signal, for example, for the command "step forwards", and tells the motor how many revolutions are needed in order to perform the task. An optimally coordinated interaction between motor, software and control unit gives the robotic joint a certain degree of autonomy in the sequence of movements. With HerkuleX servo units, the machines are able to precisely control both simple and complex mobility patterns independently. Thanks to the sophisticated software in the encoder and its high-performance communication interface, the signals are transmitted quickly and precisely.

For effective motion in the compact robots, the motor must develop as much torque as possible while maintaining miniature dimensions. Following a detailed comparison of the motors available on the market, Dongbu Robot selected 2224 SR and 2232 SR series DC-micromotors from Faulhaber, available in the UK from EMS. In terms of dynamics and power density, Dongbu Robot found them to be undisputed leaders. The 2232 SR series DC-micromotors achieve a continuous torque of 10mNm with a motor diameter of just 22mm. To accomplish this, they need very little power and begin their work even with a very low starting voltage. With an efficiency of up to 87%, they use the battery reserves with maximum efficiency, enabling a long running time per charge. In addition, Dongbu Robot reports that the linear characteristics of the motor simplify control.

With regard to their usefulness in practical applications, humanoid robots are still a long way from their stationary industrial relatives and the wheeled domestic servants. But with advances in technology, their disadvantage could be transformed into a key advantage: just look at the way humans have celebrated evolutionary triumph by virtue of their comparatively unstable upright gait. From their non-specialisation has grown virtually limitless possibilities which ultimately made them so successful. Who is to say that similar success will be any less so for robots?
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