Robotics: Training Systems in Step with Industry's Advances

By Tyre, Terian | T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education), May 1989 | Go to article overview

Robotics: Training Systems in Step with Industry's Advances


Tyre, Terian, T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)


Robotics: Training Systems In Step With Industry's Advances

Vision capability is the newest trend in the technology of industrial robots. Seeing robots have a small camera that transmits images to a vision board contained in an external computer. Software controls the vision hardware and action/reaction decisions based on visual feedback are handled by the robot's programming.

Concurrent with the advancements in work-a-day world robots, producers of robotic training systems are also updating their offerings.

"The new trend in robotics education," says Jim Bussey, national sales manager for Fischer America, Inc., "is that we're able to do a lot of the very sophisticated things that industrial robots do. We're able to model them now very faithfully."

Instructional systems that emulate real-world environments, important in any discipline, are even more integral in robotics. First, the skills required for robotics-related occupations are highly specific. And secondly, automated manufacturing leaves little opportunity for workers to get on-the-job training.

Robotics Making Inroads

Testimony to the steady robotization of manufacturing and production: Shipments by U.S.-based robot manufacturers grew by $8.3 million in 1988, according to the Robotic Industries Association (RIA), and net new orders totalled almost $332 million, a gain of nearly 10 percent over 1987.

Significantly, this growth is not in the expected areas. "With auto industry purchases far below that of the mid-1980s," says Donald A. Vincent, executive vice president of RIA, "it's apparent that U.S. robot manufacturers have found many new customers in industries such as electronics, aerospace, appliances, food processing and pharmaceuticals."

Systems For All Grades

In recognition of the movement toward automated manufacturing, courses in robotics--both the principles and its applications--are now offered in junior high and high schools, community colleges, universities and technical schools.

At the lower level, these classes instruct young students in basic computer programming, mathematics and the mechanics of how motors and gears work. At the highest levels, university students are building CIM cells with multiple robot stations and are learning the business of automated manufacturing.

Vendors of robotic training packages recognize the wide range of expertise and grade levels their products serve and tailor them accordingly. Most also offer a variety of optional, add-on components, allowing schools to expand or customize a system.

Prominent vendors in the arena include Rhino Robots, Inc. of Champaign, Ill.; Heathkit/Zenith Educational Systems in St. Joseph, Mich.; Fischer America Inc., based in Fairfield, N.J.; D&M Computing, out of Moorhead, Mich.; and TII Robotic Systems of Palatine, Ill. A brief description of some of their products follows below.

Robots That See

In step with the latest rage in robotics, Rhino Vision provides hands-on instruction in computer-based vision systems. Suited for higher education, the package from Rhino Robots is designed to interface with an XR Series Rhino robot and an IBM PC.

Boasting a vision board that scans all 256 lines of a frame, Rhino Vision emulates its industrial brethren at a fraction of the cost. And it has links to the firm's generic robotic programming language. "We tied [Rhino Vision] into RoboTalk," explains Harprit Sandhu, president of Rhino Robots, "because it's not useful if it doesn't do anything based on the vision system's feedback."

Keeping abreast of advances in industrial robotics, the company has enhanced many of its products. For example, the Mark IV Controller for XR Series robots replaces the Mark III. The Mark III Controller understood just 14 commands; the Mark IV understands more than 75 including X-Y-Z positioning and offers improved motor control capabilities. …

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