New Approach to Robot Arms

Robots aren’t good at everything. Lifting things is something they’re usually good at — but picking things up is not. Actually grasping items is a challenge for your average robot. Rexroth often provides a choice of arm extensions to help robots grasp things, but still they have trouble. Different sizes of items, different shapes, disorganized piles — these things can foil a robot’s attempts to move items from one place to another. And yet that’s most of the average robot’s job.

Enter the DX-1 from Dextrous Robotics. As you can see in the video above, this machine uses two arms, each with a giant chopstick, to grab all kinds of items from disorganized piles. With AI software to help it determine the amount of pressure required, it can grab items large and small.

Real-world use

The items get turned upside down before being placed in the desired location, so it won’t work for everything. However, it can pick 2,000 items per hour, which is nearly ten times as many as a human can accomplish.

That’s a theoretical maximum, not what the machine actually does in demos. And it assumes some order and lighter weights. But even in trials, DX-1 can move 900 boxes an hour — still a lot more than people can do.

When it comes to comparing this machine to human being, we have to keep in mind that humans can’t keep working at their top speeds without breaks. They will at some point need a second worker to help them with a really heavy box. And they probably won’t find work of this kind, that requires nothing but brute strength, satisfying over the long haul.

Not humanoid

A machine like this is better than a human being in a work environment where the main task is picking things up and moving them to another, predictable place. But is it better than a humanoid robot?

If the task is to move boxes, it’s hard to see any good reason to choose a humanoid robot. DX-1 can do it. The makers are working on helping it move from one site to another autonomously. Right now, it has to be moved by human workers when it finishes moving a stack of items. Once it gets that kind of movement down, it should be able to unload trucks or shelve items all day and all night, too.

A humanoid robot might make sense in a situation where there’s not enough call for those tasks to keep DX-1 busy. Then, it might be beneficial to have a machine that could learn to do something else during its downtime.

But a busy warehouse could probably keep DX-1 working and let the human workers take on the other tasks.

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