Robot Technologies and Automation Solutions in Digital Era
Robot Technologies Forming Cyber-Physical Systems with Matryoshka-Like Nested Structure
Efforts Aimed at Sophistication and Practical Realization of Robot Technologies Needed for Cyber-Physical Systems
MIYAUCHI Takashi /
KONDO Koichi / YAMAMOTO Takehiko / YAMAMOTO Hiroshi
Accompanying the growing labor shortage due to the change in the population structure as a consequence of the declining birthrate and aging of society as well as the further diversification and complexity of work, there is a strong need for robots and automated equipment that can perform autonomous operations responding flexibly to the surrounding environment and work requirements in addition to the conventional forms of repetitious work.
The Toshiba Group has been developing many different varieties of robots and automated equipment to meet the needs of society and the market. We are also promoting not only the research and development of more intelligent and advanced technologies for individual robots but also the creation of new value, which has not been able to be achieved independently up to now, by connecting them to cyber-physical systems (CPS) as devices for edge computing aimed at providing automation solutions to a wide range of customers.
Image Recognition Techniques Enabling Precise Understanding for Robots
MATSUMURA Masafumi / ITO Satoshi / AKAGI Takuma
With the rapid progress of artificial intelligence (AI) and deep learning, the advancement and dissemination of robots have been accelerating. The range of robot applications has also been expanding, from the handling of repetitious work at manufacturing sites to various industrial spheres including production, logistics, and physical distribution systems in order to address social issues that have arisen in Japan due to the labor shortage accompanying the aging of society and declining birthrate in recent years. Techniques corresponding to human vision that make it possible to precisely understand operating conditions play a critical role in the sophistication of robots.
The Toshiba Group is engaged in the development of robots equipped with a variety of functions including piece picking, loading and unloading, autonomous mobile, and spot-welding validation robots. In order to enhance the sophistication of these robots, we have developed the following image recognition techniques: (1) an instance segmentation technique that is independent of the type of object, (2) a three-dimensional (3D) posture estimation technique that responds to various shapes of objects, (3) a self-localization technique that achieves an identification accuracy of within 1° in rotation error and within 10 cm in translation error, and (4) an ultrasonic sensing technique that makes it possible to evaluate spot welds nondestructively.
Robot Control Techniques Providing Quick, Careful, and Secure Object Gripping Capability
HIRAGURI Kazuma / KAWAI Hirofumi / NAKAMOTO Hideichi
The range of application of industrial robots has been expanding in recent years from simple tasks at assembly lines to non-routine tasks involving the handling of various objects in a diverse array of fields including the logistics and service areas. Moreover, automation systems that can perform various actions to meet user needs through a combination of robots produced by different companies as required are now attracting attention.
With these trends as a background, Toshiba Corporation has developed a controller interface (I/F) software technique that makes it possible for robots having different types of setup procedures and command systems to operate in a unified manner by means of a generalized communication I/F. We have also developed the following mechanisms: (1) compound mechanisms by which an object can be either attached to or gripped as required, and (2) a robotic hand incorporating mechanisms that allow it to either attach to a lightweight object or support a heavy object from below according to the weight, thereby achieving quick, careful, and secure gripping of various objects using a robotic arm.
Software Platforms Supporting Efficient Development of Various Types of Robot Systems
HIRAYAMA Noriyuki / SAWA Kazuhide / NOGUCHI Keiko
The introduction of robots in various fields for automation and labor saving continues to progress, making it necessary to supply various types of robot systems to individual customers swiftly and at lower cost in order to meet their diversifying requirements. There is consequently an increasing need for the construction of software platforms to support the efficient development of software for robot systems.
As part of its efforts in the development of robots positioned as key edge computing devices in cyber-physical systems (CPS), the Toshiba Group has defined a reference architecture common to robot systems. By not only making best use of the Robot Operating System (ROS) as an open-source software framework but also effectively utilizing our proprietary functions for robot applications, we have developed optimal software platforms for picking robots and autonomous mobile robots, respectively.
Picking Robots and Palletizing Robots Contributing to Labor Saving and Efficient Operation of Physical Distribution Centers
OGAWA Akihito / USHIYAMA Takafumi / EHARA Koji
In the logistics business field, there is a strong need for investments in the construction of physical distribution centers due to the rapid expansion in sales of large volumes of various types of products worldwide through electric commerce. As most of the work at distribution sites, such as processes for sorting and packing, is still dependent on human resources, demand for the introduction of automated processes using robots has been increasing in order to solve a critical labor shortage.
To meet customers’ requirements for labor-saving or totally automated physical distribution centers, Toshiba Infrastructure Systems & Solutions Corporation has developed a picking robot and a palletizing robot following its previous launching of a depalletizing robot. These robots are cyber-physical systems (CPS) that can autonomously judge the on-site situation and perform appropriate work on various objects by repeating a cycle of recognizing the surrounding conditions based on sensor information, generating an operation plan, and executing the operation. Furthermore, through the connection of these robots as edge computing devices to a total warehouse control system (TWCS), this high-level CPS can be expected to realize efficient supervision of the entire site.
Spot Welding Inspection Robot Achieving Labor Saving and Improvement of Reliability Using 3D Ultrasonic Inspection Equipment
USHIJIMA Akira / SAITO Masahiro / MATSUMOTO Shin
Spot welding is an important process in the automobile and rolling stock fields, closely related to the strength of joints. However, conventional manual destructive inspection methods using sampled products are still the mainstream in the process of manufacturing these products, which typically have several thousand welded parts. Accompanying the widespread use of high-tensile-strength steel plates in these fields, demand has now arisen for nondestructive methods allowing such welded parts to be automatically and swiftly inspected with high accuracy.
The Toshiba Group has developed a spot welding inspection robot integrating its Matrixeye three-dimensional (3D) ultrasonic inspection equipment based on a synthetic aperture focusing technique and its propriety robot control techniques. This robot makes it possible to adjust the tilt angle of the ultrasonic probe of Matrixeye, which requires highly skilled operation of the end effector of the robot, in a short time by applying ultrasonic image analysis and precise robot positioning control techniques. We are aiming to achieve the practical application of this spot welding inspection robot at an early stage by improving its reliability and usability through repeated field tests.
Autonomous Mobile Robot System Allowing Swift Development
YAMAMOTO Daisuke / KISHI Nobuyuki / TAIRA Kazuki
Robots are a focus of expectations as a replacement for conventional manual operations in order to solve the severe labor shortage in a broad range of fields in Japan. However, the need for sophisticated expertise and reduction of the time required to develop appropriate robots for various tasks are significant issues.
The Toshiba Group has been making efforts to develop system technologies for autonomous mobile robots, composed of hardware units for respective functions and a software platform, targeting the following two tasks: (1) the task of transporting carts at a physical distribution center, and (2) the task of checking shelf space at a retail store. We have confirmed the effectiveness of our autonomous mobile robot system through demonstration experiments applying prototype robots developed in a short period of time using this system.
Automated Guided Vehicles Equipped with Robot Arm Realizing Labor Saving through Collaboration between Workers and Robots
TERADA Akihito / HORIE Kazuhiro / HARA Naoyuki
The automation of manufacturing sites is becoming an urgent issue in Japanese manufacturing industries as a result of the domestic labor shortage as well as wage increases centering around Asian countries. In particular, automated conveyance systems that can provide not only transport but also parts handling functions are expected to contribute to a reduced need for factory workers when investing in facilities.
In response to this situation, the Toshiba Group has been working on the development of automatic guided vehicles (AGVs) equipped with different robot arms to perform various types of functions and has been introducing these AGVs to manufacturing sites both within and outside the company. We have now developed an AGV equipped with a robot arm to transport semiconductor wafer cases for semiconductor lines, and a mobile palletizer to perform the task of stacking cardboard boxes on pallets for production lines of general sites. These AGVs contribute to the enhancement of worker safety on the production line by monitoring workers using sensors so as to secure a safe distance from them while operating.
CPS Edge Tool Capable of Connecting Existing Equipment to IoT Networks
KUSAKA Tsubasa / TAKI Toshikazu / LIN Chiayu
The collection of a wide variety of data from robots and legacy automated equipment already in operation at manufacturing sites via networks is essential when converting existing facilities into an optimal cyber-physical system (CPS). Demand has therefore been growing for a mechanism that can be attached to equipment lacking a network function in order to easily connect such equipment to Internet of Things (IoT) networks.
Toshiba Corporation has developed a CPS edge tool as an add-on tool that can easily collect data from equipment already in operation. The CPS edge tool incorporates a method for collecting various types of sensor data by assigning ID numbers to each of the sensors, and a meter recognition method to extract numerical values from images of the displays of non-digitalized meters obtained by cameras. This tool is expected to achieve labor saving and make it possible to introduce inspection systems using mobile robots equipped with cameras.