Members press release

Schunk, Germany - IFR Partner

Service robotics is the future key market

1 April 2011

Manipulators with a compact performance such as the SCHUNK SDH-2 gripper hand, are an in-demand mod-ule for service robotics.Insiders are convinced that golden times lie ahead for service robotics. Around the world companies and institutes have recognized the potential of robots as helpers for humans, and are working on everyday solutions. All different kinds of businesses are interested in service robotics, from  large companies, to innovative startups, and also conventional manufacturers of industrial robots, electronic and automation components. Henrik A. Schunk, Managing Partner of SCHUNK GmbH & Co. KG, is confident that the serfice robotic market will triple over the next ten years, and has devoted time and money for robotics development at SCHUNK.

Service robotics will push various worldwide industries forward. The range reaches from the minesweeper to the milking robot, the fully automatic pool cleaner, entertainment machines, and to service nursing. In Asia, the leisure industry will play an important role in these developments, whereas Americans are showing great interest in the armaments industry, agriculture, and consumer industry. In Europe, the focus of research is mainly on lifestyle, logistics, and laboratory automation.

An ever increasing number of companies are discovering service robotics for themselves

Service robotics are no longer exclusively for university research. Polysius AG is marketing a fully automatic laboratory automation system for quality control during the cement production process. Audi AG intensively researches on service robots for picking of parts in the automotive industry, Harris Corp. uses service robots for bomb disposal, and Infineon Technologies AG controls the air quality in cleanrooms with service robots.

Even though service robot technologies are fully developed in many areas, the market development for service robotics is still in its infancy. Professor Dr. Henrik I. Christensen, holder of the ?KUKA Chair of Robotics? at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, said that the public market has ignored many developments because real-world applications are far too expensive for the average consumer.

The market demands payable solutions

The LWA-4 light-weight arm from SCHUNK is a flexible all-rounder for testing, measuring and monitoring.Christensen urged for a change from technologically driven researches to market- and price-orientated developments. If costs keep within the budget, said Christensen, service robots can open up their markets. Paying $200 to $300 for a household robot is realistic. In the healthcare industry, the price limit is about $10,000. User- or consumer-orientated interfaces are equally important because robots can be used by the average consumer as well. Moreover he recommended to design service robots for special applications. In the healthcare field, for example, the focus must be more on the manipulation and navigation, in the logistics however cycle times must be lower than 6 seconds, and the grippers have to be robust and flexible.

Current application examples show that standardized platforms and components can contribute to economic and highly developed solutions. This applies for light-weight arms or flexibly applicable grippers, as well as mobile platforms or control units. SCHUNK the compentence leader for clamping technology and gripping systems is offering a unique modular system for various applications in service robotics. From the industry-proven gripper hand to the modular light-weight arm, the modular system of the innovative family-owned company offers various components, from which subtle manipulators can be quickly designed. Whereas MetraLabs GmbH from Ilmenau, Germany has specialized in mobile platforms, which can navigate freely and without collision within plants. They are suitable for the intralogistics and for measuring contaminations in cleanrooms.

User-friedly programming

And even in the field of control systems there are many changes: KEBA AG from Linz, Austria has developped a user-friendly control unit for light-weight arms, which reduces the programming effort for light-weight arms from several weeks to half a day. ?Even though the control units cannot be operated by armatures, the company is close to reaching this goal, said Michael Garstenauer of KEBA. The company is currently working on an intuitive control system called ?Direct Move?.The handling of this control unit is similar to the one for the popular Wii paddle. Instead of keys and coordinate system the operator just indicates the direction and orientation of the arm motion with a kind of remote control unit. The Fraunhofer institute, IPA, is intensively working on user-friedly software solutions, too. The institute has developped an open hardware driver for the hardware platform Care-O-bot 3 in an actively maintained open source repository for the SCHUNK LWA-3 light-weight arm. The driver replaces the time-consuming modeling of a collision-free arm movement. Moreover, a simulation allows the visualization of the motion sequences, developments, and tests without needing a real hardware.

In the future, all manufacturers of service robotics will have a national standard they have to meet, which should facilitate the market entry for service robots. The safety standard DIN ISO EN 10218-1 (Industrial robots ? safety requirements) for robots was the first on which the standards for a human robot cooperation in the field of industry were defined. This also includes how fast the assembly groups are moving, and how they have to be secured against unintentional movements.

And humans adapt, too

In the small Italian town Peccioli, service robots such as the DustCart from the Scuola Superiore Sant?Anna in Pisa have already been tested in public spaces.  Photos: Silvio Franco, Scuola Superiore Sant?Anna

According to current research from Great Britain, it is a fact that service robots have to adapt to the human, but the human also has to change its behavior if service robots are used. Prof. Kerstin Dautenhahn of the Herdforshire University is examining in a ?robot house,? how robots can be used in a domestic environment. It has been shown that humans eventually adapt to the robot?s peculiarities and possibilities. Prof. Paolo Dario of the Scuola Superiore Sant?Anna in Pisa reported of similar events. In field tests service robots are already used in Peccioli, a small town in Italy, where autonomous robots are used for waste disposal, and for street cleaning. Here again, humans change their behavior depending on the possibilities service robots offer.

New fields of activity for system integrators and support centers

Experts assume that together with a boom in service robotics, new fields of activity will develop. According to Prof. Alois Knoll of the Technical University in Munich, system integrators are required in the field of service robots, which are specialized for individual fields of application. In the future, this should close the gap between manufacturer and consumer. In his opinion, system integration is a significant factor for the value of the robots.

Dr. Amos Albert from Robert Bosch GmbH identified another field of activity. He sees a considerable potential in semi-autonomous service robots. If you do not have your own solution strategy, you can be assisted by a central support. The so-called ?Click-Worker? may be organized like a call center. If needed, they can connect to the robot, solve the problem, and release the robot into its autonomy again. A concept from Dr. Markus Waibel from the Federal Technical University in Zurich went a step further. He searched for a central knowledge store, where data, models, applications and programs are stored, which can be independently called off by the robot itself. The idea is amazingly easy: All the connected robots, developers and system integrators can use a common pool of knowledge, with successful solution strategies, and put self-developed strategies into the system.

Facebook Groups

As a pioneer for modular robotics, SCHUNK has promoted the development of service robots from the very beginning. In addition to the annually held SCHUNK Expert Days on Service Robotics, SCHUNK wants to intensify the networking within the service robot community and a facebook group was set up at  www.expertdays.schunk.com/facebook. It is open to all interested companies and research institutions.


Christopher Parlitz, Manager Service Robotics

SCHUNK GmbH & Co. KG, Lauffen


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