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Schunk modules bring flexibility to service robot

Schunk modules bring flexibility to service robot

Friendly and likeable. Invisible when not needed. On call around the clock. The butler of the future - called Care-O-bot 4 - was developed by the Frauenhofer IPA in Stuttgart, and celebrated its world premiere at the Schunk Expert Days on Service Robotics. The modular design allows diverse configurations and application scenarios.

"Its high degree of standardisation makes Care-O-bot 4 a milestone in the field of mobile service robots," emphasises Henrik Schunk, managing partner of Schunk GmbH. Both the arm joints and the one-finger hand of the Care-O-bot 4 are taken from Schunk's standardised modules for mobile gripping systems.

"Since service robot solutions are generally used in mobile applications, the components have to be lightweight and energy-efficient," Schunk explains. "Mobile gripping systems from Schunk are designed exactly for such scenarios. The components can be used both in industrial applications and in measuring and testing applications, as well as in assistance systems that support people in everyday life."

While the predecessors of the Care-O-bot 4 focused on object detection or safe navigation, an important step has now been taken in the direction of commercialisation. "The fourth Care-O-bot generation is not only more agile, more flexible and more charming than its predecessors, but also features more affordable construction principles," said project manager Ulrich Reiser, team leader at the Fraunhofer IPA. The majority of the interior consists of folded sheet metal constructions, which can be manufactured cost-effectively even in small quantities.

The modular concept allows diverse configurations. It is possible, for example, to eliminate one or both arms. Standardised Schunk Powerball ERB modules with a compact spherical form that facilitates integration are used as arm joints. The entire electronic control and regulation circuitry of these components are integrated in the joint drives. Position, speed, and torque can be flexibly regulated. Since the supply lines for the gripper and tools are completely within the arms, there are no interfering cables on the peripheral devices.

Integrated intelligence, universal communication interfaces, and cable technology for data transfer and power supply allow their use as single modules or as completely pre-configured Schunk Powerball lightweight arms for easy integration in higher level units, such as Care-O-bot 4.

For portable use, the modules operate by a 24V DC power supply or even rechargeable batteries for complete mobility. The consistent lightweight construction and torque motors ensure low energy consumption. That lowers energy costs, provides for longer work periods when using rechargeable batteries and also allows the use of small-format batteries.

The costly ball joints of the Care-O-bot 4 in the neck and hips, as well as many sensors, are optional. If the application only requires the serving of beverages, it would be possible to replace one hand with a tray or to only use the mobile base as a serving and transport cart. Individual adaptation to specific tasks creates economical solutions.

One of the primary concerns of the development engineers was user-friendly handling, because most people are intimidated by robots, especially if they are hard to uses and program. An easily accessible interaction area on the head allows intuitive operation of the Care-O-bot 4 and can be used in either sitting or standing position.

Of course, interaction with the robot by means of words or gestures is also possible through the means of cameras and microphones for recognition of specific people through by their speech and gestures. The robot responds with gestures such as nodding or shaking of the head to signal whether it has understood.

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