by Eric Lanke
One of the three major areas of future government-funded research being pursued by the Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power (CCEFP) and the NFPA is human scale fluid power systems for assistive and collaborative robots. To that end, we recently organized an effort to respond to a Request for Information (RFI) from the U.S. Department of Defense for technologies to be included in an envisioned Manufacturing Innovation Institute (MII) on assistive and soft robotics. MIIs represent a multi-billion dollar government initiative to grow manufacturing capacity and jobs in the United States, and RFIs are a primary mechanism for defining the shape and scope of future institutes.
Representatives from 13 companies agreed to sign-on to the submitted report, indicating that they have a sincere interest in seeing fluid power included and participating in an MII on assistive and soft robotics. The opening paragraph of the report reads:
“A paradigm shift in robotics is occurring. Traditionally, commercially available robots have been put behind safety cages to keep their workspace separate from people. Assembly robots, welding robots, and palletizing robots are a few examples where maintaining separation between people and robots is essential in order to keep people out of harm’s way. However, a more interactive human-robot paradigm is beginning to emerge. Applications in therapeutic, assistive and enhancement technologies, such as construction and manufacturing exoskeletons and co-robots, wearable robotics for military and assistive applications, powered prosthetics, and powered orthotics motivates an entirely new view of robotics. In this view, robots and humans interact closely to perform tasks collaboratively. To realize the enormous potential benefits of such a vision, a new landscape of technologies and methods is needed. Bulky robots with rigid exteriors and non-backdrivable joints that are bolted to the floor must be replaced by lightweight, soft, compliant mechanisms that are capable of high power while maintaining fine control of interaction forces. This new generation of robots must not only be able to move with us (wearable), but also go with us (untethered). Fluid power is the only actuation and power technology that can meet all of these requirements.”
Full copies of the report can be downloaded here. This activity is part of a larger initiative to secure government funding for fluid power research, and is being driven by the CCEFP Steering Committee and the gold-level donors to the NFPA Foundation’s Pascal Society that comprise it. Additional industry supporters and participants are welcome. For more information, please contact me at 414-778-3351 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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