Members press release

Schunk, Germany - IFR Robot Supplier member

7th SCHUNK Expert Days on Service Robotics 2014

February 2014

There have never been so many market-viable service robotics applications - and never before such a sense of excitement in this market, until now. Google's broad-based entry into the fascinating world of innovative robots has finally made the technology world - along with potential users and investors - aware of this fascinating sector. At the seventh SCHUNK Expert Days on Service Robotics the feeling was tangible that there is a hot market for service robots now! The European Commission's "Horizon 2020" framework program and China's dynamic economic growth have added to this excitement.

The foundation of service robotics has already been laid and a great number of compo-nents are now ready for series production. According to Prof. Dr. Henrik I. Christensen of the Georgia Institute of Technology, the next step is to develop business models capable of penetrating the market in concrete ways, while pinpointing the most appropriate robots for certain applications, based on economic aspects. The "Horizon 2020" EU framework program has identified healthcare, agriculture and industrial production as the most significant growth sectors for robotics. But how can the industry take the next major step? In the view of Dr. Roko Tschakarow, the Business Unit Manager Mobile Gripping Systems at SCHUNK, the competence leader for clamping technology and gripping systems, the key is system integration specialists actively endeavoring to bridge the gap between research and component manufacturers on one hand, and consumers on the other. According to Tschakarow, it is crucial to consistently think about the situation from the perspective of future users, and to speak their language. "Especially since many people who will use service robots in the future currently have no connection to robotics," explains Tschakarow. Dr. Claus Risager, Partner & Director of Blue Ocean Robotics, a service robotics start-up from Denmark, shows what is possible. Whether using robots to assist with installing glass walls, handling unsorted parts or as educational robots for autistic children - Blue Ocean Robotics has demonstrated in many instances that with a clearer focus on the market and close cooperation with future users, economical robot solutions can be developed and made ready for series production very quickly.

Robots aimed at consumers first became popular due to the success of vacuum and cleaning robots. In agriculture, milking robots played a huge role, and in the case of industrial applications, it was primarily the transportation of components, samples, and goods. Three solutions ready for practical use were shown at the SCHUNK Expert Days: a rail-based laboratory automation solution, a solution for flexibly linking assembly or production stations, and a service robot with autonomous navigation to automate the transport of goods in cleanrooms. The latter will even allow for economical automation of older plants in the semiconductor industry; the service robots will transport the wafers within the laboratory so the qualified experts can concentrate on their actual duties.

On many occasions over the course of the event, it was evident that service robotics technologies are already being used in many more applications than the current statistics suggest. The best example of this is the self-navigating combine harvester that interacts with other farm equipment, presented by Dr. Hans-Peter Grothaus, Head of Development for System-based Services at CLAAS Self-Propelled Harvesters; only after a more in-depth look does it reveal itself to be a type of service robot. The situation is similar to the autonomous vehicles, driverless transport systems and sandblasting solutions to maintain bridges presented at SCHUNK Expert Days by Greg Peters, Engineering Design Manager at SABRE Autonomous Solutions, an Australian start-up. It appears that the concept of service robotics must be significantly expanded, and possibly even redefined, to understand the current economic significance of the service robotics market. This just heightens the anticipation already being felt for the next SCHUNK Expert Days on Service Robotics, which will take place February 25 to 26, 2015.