The robotic arm on NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander

Robotic arm – American inventor George Devol patented the world’s first programmable robotic arm in 1961. It completely revolutionized the auto industry in the U.S. and Japan by improving efficiency and limiting workers’ exposure to toxic materials.

  • Pictured right – The robotic arm, a vital instrument on NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander, digs into the icy soil and bring samples back to the science deck of the spacecraft for analysis

Robots have been used in manufacturing and laboratories to do many different types of work.

  • strong
  • dangerous
  • tiny, precise
  • repetitive

Industrial robots are computer controlled machines that can do a variety of jobs including holding, lifting, turning. Depending on where they are being used, industrial robots do the jobs the same way a person would. They pick up small parts with their “fingers” and hold two part together so they can be welded together. But in other types of work, robots can do things that no person could physically do because it is too cold, too heavy, you can’t bend your arm at at weird angle or see what you are doing around a corner.

Here are some examples of robots at work

  • Stainless Steel Robotic Arm – equipped with 7 degrees of freedom which helps it with its primary occupation, working in the company’s pharmaceutical labs. It’s just much easier to decontaminate a stainless steel robot using hydrogen peroxide gas.
  • vision guided robots – robots can “see” what they are doing so they can figure out what to do

What’s the problem?
Meet SAFFiR – SAFFiR is equipped with multiple sensory devices, including a video camera, gas sensor, and a stereo infrared camera that will allow it to see through smoke. The robot’s upper body is capable of operating fire suppression equipment and throwing propelled extinguishing agent technology (PEAT) grenades. Its lower body is able to walk in all directions, step over obstacles, and maintain balance in pitching seas, thanks to six-axis force/torque sensors in the feet. Weight is minimized and distributed by an aluminum central structure, along with titanium springs at the joints. The battery pack will allow for approximately 30 minutes of firefighting action.

  • Ask – Where robots are used now? Are any of these robots doing jobs that people can’t do?
  • Imagine – What kinds of jobs can robots do in the future? Why would we want robots to do this work?
  • Plan, Create – What are some special modifications that robots need to do dangerous work?
  • Improve – How can people and robots work together to do things that they can do alone?

That’s engineering

  • Degrees of Freedom

Engineering ideas

  • degrees of freedom, axis, programmable, manipulator, multipurpose, autonomous, robustness, accuracy, speed, ease of use, ease of setup, vision guidance

Do it
Here are some challenges for you to work on…

Learn more…

  • Robotics Online – news and information resource from RIA, Robotics Industries Association, for industrial robotics and automation
  • Industrial robot – An automatically controlled, reprogrammable, multipurpose manipulator programmable in three or more axes, which may be either fixed in place or mobile for use in industrial automation applications.
  • Robots+Vision – technical but some interesting examples of how vision guided robots can do really complicated tasks.