Robot challenge for researchers

New challenge: Dr Jim Heley and the robot.            Picture: Dean Atkins
New challenge: Dr Jim Heley and the robot. Picture: Dean Atkins
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A REVOLUTIONARY robot, designed to be able to go through small access ports and work in confined spaces, is being put through its paces at South Yorkshire’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre.

The “Snake-Arm Robot” has 10 segments, each capable of moving up and down and left and right, giving it 20 degrees of freedom, which allows it to bend, twist and negotiate tortuous paths.

The robot has been acquired for the AMRC’s Integrated Manufacturing Group, which specialises in solving assembly problems involving low-volume, high- value and difficult to handle components.

Group chief Jim Heley says the robot could be used in a number of challenging aerospace applications, including installing components and running cables inside wing assemblies.

“At present that can involve a lot of people crawling around in tight spaces, fitting brackets and cables, and that can be quite dangerous, because it is an enclosed area,” says Dr Heley.

“We want to find out whether the robot is technically advanced enough to help with some of those challenges.”

Dr Heley says there are a number of issues that the Integrated Manufacturing Group wants to explore.

First and foremost, it wants to find out if the robot’s ability to flex makes it difficult for it to hold heavier loads rigidly, position them accurately and manipulate them.

The group also wants to test the limits of the complex mathematical formulae that are used to control each segment, the way they react with their neighbours and ensure they repeat the movements of the head as the robot moves further into a structure.

One of the first developments is likely to be to add a vision system so that researchers can identify where the robot is within a structure.