Can Servomotors Use Human Tools?

automating toolsIndustrial motion control is typically about causing motors, especially servomotors, to move machines in specific ways. Often, we want the machines to move in ways that humans do — but faster, more precisely, or in circumstances that are not safe for humans.

An alternative that might be part of the future of robotics is automating the use of tools which humans generally use. Robots have been programmed to fill automatic dishwashers and to wield hammers, for example.

Why has this idea taken so long to take hold? It still seems a little surreal to a lot of people, but that sense of strangeness is only part of the reluctance to automate the use of human tools.

Another part might be the fear of putting people out of jobs, a continuing thread in conversations about automation. Emergency room nurses who admit that much of their job consists of raising and lowering a tray of tools still vigorously resist the idea that a robot could take over that part of the job and free them to do things that a robot can’t do. There is a fear that delegating human jobs to robots is more dangerous — in terms of potential job loss — than automating machines.

There’s also the fact that until recently automating work that required dexterity was impossible. Automating a Roomba is one thing; automating a machine that can handle the attachments on a vacuum cleaner would be a lot harder to do. Now multiple servomotors can work together to control actions with an amazing degree of precision and delicacy.

Still, servomotors can only do what they’re programmed to do. No servomotor — and at this stage of technological development, no robot, either — will think of picking up an object and making it into a tool or using it as a tool. Since the use of tools requires problem solving and judgement, we probably won’t see robot construction workers any time soon, even though a machine can drive nails into a specified location.

We also won’t see robots repairing your servomotors, drives, or controls. If you have Indramat motion control systems needing a helping hand, call us.

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