We've all read for years that mobile assistant robots would help us to take over repetitive and boring work. Surprisingly, there are very few robots able to do this. This is why the German government has launched an initiative to develop safe and cost effective robotic assistants. For example, LiSA will help life science workers. It is being built at the Fraunhofer Institute and will 'interact with technicians in the labs of life science companies and autonomously take over routine tasks such as transporting multiplates and setting up and stocking stations.' LiSA should be ready by March 2009, but read more...
The figure above shows a design study of the LiSA robot currently under development. The final version is expected by March 2009. You can see on the left that LiSA has a sensing gripper arm that senses and cushions jostling and protects humans from injuring themselves on the robot. On the right is a thermographic image recorded by a special camera which "registers body heat and indicates for instance if a human colleagues hand is in the way." (Credit: Fraunhofer IFF) Here is a link to another version of the assistant robot LiSA.
The development of this robotic assistant has partially been done at the Fraunhofer Institute for Factory Operation and Automation (IFF) under the direction of Dr. Norbert Elkmann. LiSA is one of the projects sponsored by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research in Germany who initiated the research program "Lead Innovation: Service Robotics" aimed at developing everyday service robots.
Here are some details about LiSA given by Fraunhofer IFF. "LISA is equipped with a sensing gripper arm designed to hold plastic dishes but not injure human beings. Its “artificial skin” consists of conductive foam and textiles and intelligent signal processing electronics. This skin immediately senses and cushions inadvertent jostling. A thermographic camera additionally registers body heat and indicates for instance if a human colleague’s hand is in the way. [...] It has a laser-aided navigation system with which it orients itself in familiar spaces and goes through doorways on its own. It safely navigates around obstacles and people. That suffices for everyday laboratory work anytime."
For more information about the concept behind this robotic assistant, please visit the LiSA project webpage. It states that "flexibility, safety and intuitive operation are crucial for the acceptance of an assistant robot that shares a work environment with human workers and interacts with them. Hence, along with the development of the mobile platform and navigation in dynamic environments, these aspects are also top priorities in the project."
The LiSA Robot has also been the subject of a chapter of a Lecture Notes in Computer Science book published by Springer Berlin/Heidelberg (Volume 4667/2007, Pages 502–505, August 26, 2007). Here is link to this book chapter named "LiSA: A Robot Assistant for Life Sciences.
One of the authors of the paper, Christian Teutsch, put several references to the article in his his list of publications. Here is the abstract. "This paper presents a mobile service robot that assists users in biological and pharmaceutical laboratories by carrying out routine jobs such as filling and transportation of microplates. Relevant requirements are outlined and an overview of the design of the mobile platform with a robotic arm is provided. Moreover, the approaches to object recognition and intuitive multimodal human-machine interaction using speech and touchpad input are described. The main focus of the project is aspects of safety since the robot and humans share a common environment and actually cooperate. Hence, a safety concept has been devised, which consists of various sensor systems such as laser scanners, thermographic components and artificial skin."
Teutsch added links to a short version (PDF format, 4 pages, 207 KB) and to a long version (PDF format, 12 pages, 2.50 MB) of this article. The figure above was extracted from the short version of the article.
Sources: Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, Research News, January 2008; and various websites
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