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U.S. Researchers to Create Contact-aware Robot Design

Adequate biomimicry in robotics necessitates a delicate balance between design and control, an integral part of making our machines more like us. Advanced dexterity in humans is wrapped up in a long evolutionary tale of how our fists of fury evolved to accomplish complex tasks. With machines, designing a new robotic manipulator could mean long, manual iteration cycles of designing, fabricating, and evaluating guided by human intuition.

Most robotic hands are designed for general purposes, as it is very tedious to make task-specific hands. Existing methods battle trade-offs between the complexity of designs critical for contact-rich tasks, and the practical constraints of manufacturing, and contact handling.

This led U.S. researchers to create a new method to computationally optimise the shape and control of a robotic manipulator for a specific task. Their system uses software to manipulate the design, simulate the robot doing a task, and then provide an optimisation score to assess the design and control.

Such task-driven manipulator optimisation has potential for a wide range of applications in manufacturing and warehouse robot systems, where each task needs to be performed repeatedly, but different manipulators would be suitable for individual tasks.

Seeking to test the functionality of the system, the team first created a single robotic finger design to flip over a box on the ground. The fingertip structure was automatically optimised by an algorithm to hook onto the box’s back surface and flip it.

They also developed a model for an assembly task, where a two-finger design put a small cube into a larger, movable mount. Since the fingers were two different lengths, they could reach two objects of different sizes, and the larger and flatter surfaces of the fingers helped stably push the object.

Traditionally, this joint optimisation process consists of using simple, more primitive shapes to approximate each component of a robot design. When creating a three-segment robotic finger, for example, it would likely be approximated by three connected cylinders, where the algorithm optimises the length and radius to achieve the desired design and shape.

While this would simplify the optimisation problem, oversimplifying the shape would be limiting for more complex designs, and ultimately complex tasks. To create more involved manipulators, the team’s method used a technique called cage-based deformation,  which essentially lets the user change or deform the geometry of a shape in real-time.

By using the software, the algorithm can automatically change the cage dimensions to make more sophisticated, natural shapes. The different variations of designs still keep their integrity, so they can be easily fabricated.

Using these simulation tools, the researchers do not need to evaluate the design by manufacturing and testing it in the real world. In contrast to reinforcement learning algorithms that are popular for manipulation, but are data-inefficient, the proposed cage-based representation and the simulator allows for the use of powerful gradient-based methods.

Not only does the team find better solutions, but also find them faster. As a result, they can quickly score the design, thus significantly shortening the design cycle. In the future, the team plans to extend the software to optimise the manipulators concurrently for multiple tasks.

U.S. researchers have been creating robots for a variety of purposes, including identifying and picking up objects. As reported by OpenGov Asia, U.S. researchers have developed robotic piece-picking systems which combine unique gripper designs with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine vision to help companies sort products and get orders out the door.

The robotic system is helping companies respond to two broad trends that have transformed retail operations. The first trend is the explosion of e-commerce, which has been accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic. The other is a shift to just-in-time inventory fulfilment, in which pharmacies, grocery stores, and apparel companies restock items based on what has been purchased that day or week to improve efficiency.

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Qlik’s vision is a data-literate world, where everyone can use data and analytics to improve decision-making and solve their most challenging problems. A private company, Qlik offers real-time data integration and analytics solutions, powered by Qlik Cloud, to close the gaps between data, insights and action. By transforming data into Active Intelligence, businesses can drive better decisions, improve revenue and profitability, and optimize customer relationships. Qlik serves more than 38,000 active customers in over 100 countries.

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As a Titanium Black Partner of Dell Technologies, CTC Global Singapore boasts unparalleled access to resources.

Established in 1972, we bring 52 years of experience to the table, solidifying our position as a leading IT solutions provider in Singapore. With over 300 qualified IT professionals, we are dedicated to delivering integrated solutions that empower your organization in key areas such as Automation & AI, Cyber Security, App Modernization & Data Analytics, Enterprise Cloud Infrastructure, Workplace Modernization and Professional Services.

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Planview has one mission: to build the future of connected work. Our solutions enable organizations to connect the business from ideas to impact, empowering companies to accelerate the achievement of what matters most. Planview’s full spectrum of Portfolio Management and Work Management solutions creates an organizational focus on the strategic outcomes that matter and empowers teams to deliver their best work, no matter how they work. The comprehensive Planview platform and enterprise success model enables customers to deliver innovative, competitive products, services, and customer experiences. Headquartered in Austin, Texas, with locations around the world, Planview has more than 1,300 employees supporting 4,500 customers and 2.6 million users worldwide. For more information, visit www.planview.com.

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SIRIM is a premier industrial research and technology organisation in Malaysia, wholly-owned by the Minister​ of Finance Incorporated. With over forty years of experience and expertise, SIRIM is mandated as the machinery for research and technology development, and the national champion of quality. SIRIM has always played a major role in the development of the country’s private sector. By tapping into our expertise and knowledge base, we focus on developing new technologies and improvements in the manufacturing, technology and services sectors. We nurture Small Medium Enterprises (SME) growth with solutions for technology penetration and upgrading, making it an ideal technology partner for SMEs.

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HashiCorp provides infrastructure automation software for multi-cloud environments, enabling enterprises to unlock a common cloud operating model to provision, secure, connect, and run any application on any infrastructure. HashiCorp tools allow organizations to deliver applications faster by helping enterprises transition from manual processes and ITIL practices to self-service automation and DevOps practices. 

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IBM is a leading global hybrid cloud and AI, and business services provider. We help clients in more than 175 countries capitalize on insights from their data, streamline business processes, reduce costs and gain the competitive edge in their industries. Nearly 3,000 government and corporate entities in critical infrastructure areas such as financial services, telecommunications and healthcare rely on IBM’s hybrid cloud platform and Red Hat OpenShift to affect their digital transformations quickly, efficiently and securely. IBM’s breakthrough innovations in AI, quantum computing, industry-specific cloud solutions and business services deliver open and flexible options to our clients. All of this is backed by IBM’s legendary commitment to trust, transparency, responsibility, inclusivity and service.