Robots operating in manufacturing facilities have often posed risks to workers because they are not responsive enough to their surroundings. When companies use robots to produce goods, they generally have to position their automatic helpers in safety cages to reduce the risk of injury to people working nearby.

A toolbox principle was developed for the assembly of safe robots using various components. The modules can be combined in almost any way desired, enabling companies to customize their robots for a wide range of tasks or simply replace damaged components.

Each module in the IMPROV robot toolbox is equipped with a chip that enables every modular robot to program itself on the basis of its own individual toolkit. The robots react to and avoid contact with people in their surroundings. With the chip installed in each module and the self-programming functionality, the robot is automatically aware of all data on the forces acting within it as well as its own geometry. That enables the robot to predict its own path of movement.

At the same time, the robot's control center uses input from cameras installed in the room to collect data on the movements of people working nearby. Using this information, a robot programmed with IMPROV can model the potential next moves of all of the nearby workers. As a result, it can stop before coming into contact with a hand, for example, or with other approaching objects. Because the robots are automatically programmed for all possible movements nearby, no human will be able to instruct them to do anything wrong.

The toolbox uses standard industrial modules for some parts, complemented by the necessary chips and new components from a 3D printer. In tests, IMPROV robots took 36 percent less time to complete their tasks than previous solutions that require a permanent safety zone around a robot.

Watch the system in action on Tech Briefs TV here. For more information, contact Professor Dr. Matthias Althoff at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; +49 (89) 289-18134.

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This article first appeared in the January, 2020 issue of Tech Briefs Magazine.

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