Developing humanoid robotics technologies to perform difficult tasks in aeronautical plants is the joint four-year research program of the Joint Robotics Laboratory (CNRS/AIST) and Airbus Group. It was officially launched on February 12, 2016 at the French Embassy in Tokyo. The introduction of humanoids on aeronautical assembly lines will help to relieve human operators of the most laborious or dangerous tasks. This will allow them to focus on higher value-added tasks. The main difficulty for these robots will be to work in a cramped environment: how to perform certain movements without colliding with the many objects around? This is the first question that researchers will have to answer, by developing new algorithms for planning and controlling precise movements.
Due to the size of aeronautical aircraft (e.g. airliners) and the very large number of tasks to be performed on few units, the use of specialized fixed-base robots, already used in the automotive industry, is impossible in the aviation industry. Other difficulties are added: although robots made up of a mobile base and a manipulative arm can be used by the industry (as at Airbus Group for example), these are limited in their movements. They do not have the ability to climb stairs or ladders, pass obstacles to the ground, etc. For its part, the Joint Robotics Laboratory (JRL, CNRS/AIST) develops, from the models of HRP-2 and HRP-4 robots, new technologies of locomotion called multi-contact: by using all its body to make contact with its environment, and not only with its feet, this type of robot can climb ladders and enter cramped places. The ability to have multiple contacts also increases the robot's stability and the force it can apply when performing a task. In addition, the anthropomorphic shape of these robots offers a useful versatility to perform a large number of different tasks in various environments.
The collaboration between JRL researchers and Airbus Group aims to enable humanoid robots to perform handling tasks in a constrained and limited environment, assembly lines, where they will have to make coordinated use of their bodies to carry out their mission. Small spaces require special postures. As the calculation of such postures is mathematically complex, researchers will first have to develop new algorithms, much more powerful than those currently in place, while keeping these calculations fast enough to keep the robot movements effective. Typical tasks that robots will have to perform will be, for example, to tighten a nut, clean an area of its metal dust or insert parts into the structure of the device. They will also be able to check that the systems are working properly once manufacturing is complete.
These algorithms will be tested on a set of scenarios derived from the needs of the various branches of Airbus Group (Civil Aviation, Helicopters, and Space), and whose realism will increase over the years. On the robotics research side, in addition to the contribution of new algorithms, this collaboration may highlight the shortcomings of today's robots (design, precision or power, for example). It could also be used to specify the specifications of the first generation of humanoid robots dedicated to the manufacture of large structures, within 10 to 15 years.
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