Motion capture and the coexistence of robots and humans

November 12, 2019 //By Tim Massey
Motion capture
The rise of automation has led to robots becoming a common sight in industrial workplaces where they have traditionally operated in caged off-environments, away from humans.

However, more recently we’re witnessing the rise of a new generation of collaborative robots (a.k.a cobots) that are changing how sectors such as components manufacturing, scientific benchwork and light product manufacturing operate. These cobots have been unleashed from their cages and are being used to perform tasks alongside real people.

Obvious safety reasons demanded that early cobots were small in size. They used force sensors, machine vision and other sensing technologies to avoid striking humans and could be easily shut off in the event of accidental collisions.

Today, the collaborative automation sector is focussing on expanding into high-speed or heavier-duty — and therefore potentially more dangerous — manufacturing, logistics and material handling roles. This move serves to amplify the importance of the need for safe interaction between these robots and humans.

The drone challenge

Drones are a particular kind of cobot but they represent a fantastic opportunity to turn the empty airspace within factories and logistics warehouses into productive areas where packages and products can be picked and transported. Brands like Amazon have already talked publicly about drones as a potential path to best serving the ever-growing e-commerce market — with its increasingly small-scale shipments and shorter delivery deadlines — in a cost-effective and sustainable way.

But drones can obviously be dangerous. A collision between a human warehouse worker and a drone, or a parcel dropped on someone’s head by a faulty drone could easily be fatal. Therefore, many organisations and research institutions are currently exploring new and innovative ways to help drones to recognise and avoid obstacles, particularly the quick and sometimes erratic movement of people. The successful coexistence of drones and robots with people in manufacturing warehouse environments has become a significant engineering challenge.

Technische Universität (TU) Dortmund, one of the leading technical universities in Europe, is heavily involved in helping to solve this challenge with its research focused on human activity recognition and ergonomics in logistics and manufacturing environments.

To deliver the visual and data evidence that is vital to guide the team’s insights into human activity and drone tracking, TU Dortmund is using cutting-edge motion capture at its InnovationLab.

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