Currently, industrial robots are cost-effective for repetitive and high-volume tasks such as welding and painting, but not for lower-volume, mixed-part production. The need for robotic part handling for unstructured industrial applications is diverse. In manufactured-goods distribution centers, where multiple bins are presented to an operator, a human is required to handle a range of parts that must be boxed and shipped. In the reclamation and recycling industry, humans sort waste streams of mixed products on conveyor belts. Assembly and kitting operations in manufacturing are termed ?robotic opportunities? but they require a solution for handling many part types in the same work-cell. This project will research and integrate technologies to enable the use of industrial robots for low-volume mixed-part production tasks. The proposed solution will include 3D image sensors and high-speed flexible networking, cloud computing, and industrial robots. The inclusion of cutting-edge new software such as the Robot-Operating System Industrial (ROS-I) and Cloud Computing platforms offer excellent educational opportunities for both undergraduate and graduate students. The software developed in this project will be widely distributed to enable further innovations by other teams.

The project objective is to develop cloud robotics applications that leverage high-performance computing and high-speed software-defined networks (SDN). Specifically, the target applications combine big-data analytics of sensor data (of the type collected from factory floors) with the control of industrial robots for low-volume, mixed-part production tasks. Cloud computers located at a remote facility relative to the factory floor on which industrial robots operate can be used for compute-intensive applications such as object identification from 3D sensor data, and grasp planning for the robots to perform object manipulation. The project methods will consist of (i) integrating ROS-I components and developing new software as required to transmit the 3D sensor data to remote computers, running the object identification and grasp planning applications, and returning robot instructions to the original site, (ii) running this software on geographically distributed compute clouds, (iii) collecting measurements and enhancing the software to meet real-time delay requirements. The technical challenge lies in meeting these stringent real-time requirements. For example, high-speed networks with the flexibility to connect arbitrary factory floors and datacenters are needed to transfer the 3D sensor data quickly to the remote cloud computers and to deliver the computed robot instructions(hence, SDN).

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Computer and Network Systems (CNS)
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Bruce Kramer
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University of Texas at Dallas
United States
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