Zhao Jie, Expert of 863 Project: Thoughts on the Next Generation of Industrial Robots

At present, the global manufacturing industry is in a new period of change. The future manufacturing mode will be completely changed. Individualized products will be produced in a flexible manufacturing mode with high efficiency and a certain batch. Robots will play an irreplaceable role in the new manufacturing mode.


At present, the traditional industrial robots can not adapt to the future manufacturing mode because of their limited scope of work. The new generation of robots will bring tremendous changes to future factories, even change the global competition pattern, because they are more intelligent, more flexible, more cooperative and more adaptable.


  1. Background and Industrial Demand


Accelerating the development of robotics technology and industry reflects the national will and strategy


With the rapid increase of labor cost and the loss of demographic dividend advantage in China, this old manufacturing mode has been greatly impacted. It has become a new comparative advantage to replace labor force with robots. Robot has become a “must-choose” from “alternative”, forcing China to accelerate industrial development, becoming an important path to realize the transformation and upgrading of manufacturing industry and enhance the competitiveness of manufacturing industry.


The limitations of traditional robot technology restrict the deep development of robot application and industry.


Traditional robots work in static, structured and deterministic unmanned environments and perform repetitive tasks in a fixed time sequence. The characteristics of this kind of robots lie in the relative isolation of space, non-contact with human beings, pre-programmed or instructional reproduction control, and the need for external security. Globalized market segmentation and the return of customized production mode make small batch, multi-variety, short cycle and personalization become the prominent characteristics of emerging manufacturing industry, and also the main production mode of future manufacturing industry. Emerging manufacturing modes such as flexible manufacturing and individualized manufacturing need “workmate” robots that can work with industrial workers and accomplish human-like skills. These new and huge demands are not available in traditional robotics technology. It can be seen that the limitations of traditional robot technology restrict the deep development of robot application and industry.


The next generation of intelligent robots brings opportunities for China to catch up with developed countries rapidly.


Robotic was put forward in the roadmap of robots released by the United States in 2013.


Partner, the “Horizon 2020 Plan” announced by the European Union in 2014, has put forward the “Co-Worker”, which all outline the future of the next generation of intelligent robots. Baxter, Justin of German Aerospace Center, LWR-IV robot developed by KUKA-DLR and YuMi of ABB show the prototype of next generation intelligent robot. Our country has made some preliminary achievements in the research of key technologies of next generation intelligent robots, but these studies are decentralized and spontaneous, without top-level design and strong financial support. At present, there is no systematic support of special science and technology projects. In this case, it is difficult for the next generation of intelligent robots to develop rapidly. The next generation of intelligent robots has just begun to be developed in developed countries abroad, and the gap between China and foreign countries is not large. This undoubtedly brings us a golden opportunity. If we can seize this opportunity and start planning from the top level, our country is expected to catch up with the developed countries in the next generation of intelligent robot technology and industry.


  1. The Concept and Connotation of Next Generation Industrial Robot


The next generation industrial robot is a kind of human assistant robot which can integrate into human production, living environment, complement human advantages, cooperate and help each other, and then become a human assistant robot with variable operation ability. “Integrating with people” is the most essential feature of the next generation of industrial robots. The so-called integration with human beings is an abstract concise relationship between human beings and robots, including three aspects of connotation:


Task Fusion – Man and robot cooperate with each other to accomplish a specified task;


Behavior integration – human and robot are consistent, coordinated and mutually helpful in behavior;


Intelligence Fusion – Intelligence of human beings and autonomous behavior of robots are fused to improve the level of intelligence of robots.


Three industries are facing multiple challenges


The bottlenecks of the next generation of industrial robots are mainly manifested in the following two levels.


Technical level


Although robotics technology has been developed for nearly 60 years, it has not been separated from the category of automated machines based on pre-programming/teleoperation. Existing robotic systems face enormous technological challenges to meet the needs of emerging manufacturing industries.


First, perception and decision-making. Existing robots are suitable for static, structured and deterministic unmanned environments to complete fixed-time, repetitive tasks. The new generation of industrial robots need to complete dynamic and changeable tasks in natural (non-artificial), unpredictable and complex human environment, which challenges the sensing, cognitive and planning decision-making capabilities of robots.


Second, dexterous work. Existing industrial robots mainly aim at single rigid object and complete simple grasping and moving operations. The new generation of industrial robots’operation/service objects extend to complex combinations, soft objects and even living organisms. They are more complex, more skillful, more dynamic and more uncertain, and challenge the material, driving, control and learning abilities of robots.


Third, man-machine integration. Existing industrial robots are basically isolated from human beings in physical space and operated by professional and technical personnel. A new generation of industrial robots will be deeply integrated into human production and life. Human and machine share space and physical contact. Safety and good interactive experience are very important, which challenge the ability of two-way information exchange, cooperative perception, intelligent fusion and behavior cooperation between robots and humans.


Industrial level


The number of industrial robots per 10,000 industrial workers in China’s manufacturing industry is much lower than that in developed countries.





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