by Eric Lanke
In 30 years, there will be human assist robots everywhere…on the battlefield, in the workplace, in hospitals and elderly care facilities and even in every home!
That’s part of the vision offered by Professor Eric Barth of Vanderbilt University at a December 9 workshop of industry and academia held on that campus. The purpose of the workshop was to engage industry attendees in the new human scale fluid power vision and strategy of the Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power (CCEFP), and work with them to identify the most promising research areas and the federal agencies that could serve as sources of funding for that research. NFPA worked in partnership with CCEFP to bring industry members to the workshop. More than 25 industry representatives participated, joined by a nearly equal number of fluid power professors and researchers.
Working together to advance fluid power’s role in robots, and more generally, human assist devices, turned out to be one of the major outcomes of the discussion. Whether it was the home health assistance robots for the elderly and/or disabled, or cooperative robots and assistive devices for manufacturing and production tasks, or autonomous robots doing real work in military or disaster relief situations, the assembled coalition of industry and academic partners all recognized the coming robot revolution as a tremendous opportunity for fluid power. It would be an entirely new market for an industry that desperately needs new markets to keep growing.
To realize that opportunity, industry participants recognized the need to support and continue several key research directions already pioneered by the CCEFP. Human-assist and other human scale applications of fluid power will require more compact and integrated fluid power components and systems, untethered fluid power supplies, safe and adaptive control systems, and order of magnitude improvements in noise, vibration and harshness.
Ongoing industry participation in these research areas will be essential, but so will the acquisition of funding through strategically aligned government agencies, such as the NIH, DOE, and DOD. As a next step, a small leadership group will be analyzing the output of the workshop and building several cases for federal support. What will the impact on health outcomes be with a new generation of medical human-assist or rehabilitation devices in the home? Or on energy savings and productivity gains with human-collaborative robots in the production environment? Or on force effectiveness with autonomous robots on the battlefield or the supply routes to the battlefield? With those cases in hand, targeted industry and academic teams will be recruited to visit aligned government agencies to make the case for fluid power’s unique role in these developments.
All are welcome to participate in this growing coalition. If your company is interested in learning more, please feel free to contact me at email@example.com.