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Is This ‘Small’ Step for Robots the Next Giant Leap for Manufacturing?

Is This ‘Small’ Step for Robots the Next Giant Leap for Manufacturing?

July 14, 2020

Industrial automation is on the verge of the next great revolution. We have one significant but often overlooked issue to overcome.

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Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

“Look at the world around you. It may seem like an immovable, implacable place. It is not. With the slightest push — in just the right place — it can be tipped.” — Malcolm Gladwell

Why is Henry Ford known as the “Father of the Auto World”?

Contrary to popular belief, he did not invent the automobile. In fact, the first automobile that could transport humans was created more than a century before the launch of Ford’s ‘Model T’ design.

Similarly, why is Johannes Gutenberg credited as the inventor of the Printing Press? Particularly when printing with blocks existed hundreds of years prior.

Revolutions are not borne from handcrafting one-of-a-kind luxuries for a few. They are wrought from gratifying the inborn needs of the many.

Ford and Gutenberg did not originate the concept of automobiles or printing. But their technologies heralded veritable ‘storming of the Bastille’ moments in their respective fields.

Their genius transformed the worlds of transportation and communication. Much like the discovery of flight and, decades later, the internet and smartphones did.

Their designs made advanced technological concepts reproducible, inexpensive, and therefore, accessible to the masses.

Another industry, the world of industrial automation, is now ripe for a shake-up. Incremental innovations in robotics ushered in progress. But we need more.

A roadblock in Robotics

In most factories today, robots are relegated to easy tasks like painting and welding. It often comes as quite a surprise to those unfamiliar with the world of manufacturing, due to the futuristic hype that surrounds robots.

They wonder, “Surely, factories today are lined with robots busy assembling entire cars, and more?”

Honestly, the answer is no.

Many repetitive and simple tasks, even today, are done by humans. And this is due to a limitation in the field of industrial robots.

As an industry, we haven’t figured out how to make robots “see” a bin of mixed items, identify what they need, pick it up, and perform simple jobs like fixing a cable, or positioning screws.

Machine vision exists. But machine vision combined with robot intelligence is not easily reproducible…yet.

It involves heavy and expensive customization. Traditional robot arms are usually retrofitted with newer technology and are programmed to “understand” one specific item or task. Changes often mean reprogramming and training.

For most manufacturers, this level of customization is not worth the effort, despite the trade-offs. Instead, they turn to humans to conduct these highly straightforward and reproducible tasks, simply because they are inexpensive and easy to train.

Overly relying on manual labor for extremely simple and repetitive tasks can lead to lower productivity levels, inconsistent quality, and higher overheads. And manufacturing systems are not resilient to withstand black swan events such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

How do we cross this deceptively simple hurdle with far-reaching impact?

A breakthrough in visual intelligence

Even renowned titans of industry acknowledge the significance of having robots with visual intelligence. Veterans such as Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos estimate about a decade to reach this breakthrough.

“I think robots that have vision and manipulation as good as humans is a huge milestone that will happen in the next decade and is being underestimated.” — Bill Gates

“I think grasping is going to be a solved problem in the next 10 years,” he said. “It’s turned out to be an incredibly difficult problem, probably in part because we’re starting to solve it with machine vision, so (that means) machine vision did have to come first.” — Jeff Bezos

At Cynlr, we believe we have the answer. And we look forward to sharing it with the world of manufacturing very soon.

Here’s a sneak peek at us crafting our pilot solution into a full-fledged product.

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