Over two-thirds of European workers in manufacturing are employed in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Their primary means of competition is to respond rapidly to changing production needs and to keep product quality at a very high level.
While robots are able to carry out repetitive tasks to a high standard, they do not meet the demands of SMEs for high flexibility. Today’s robots know only their nominal task, which limits their ability to deal with frequent changes in the manufacturing process.
Examples of today's standard robots
For the operation of robots in an SME environment, which is typically less structured and involves more uncertainties than large-scale or mass-production industries, the currently available solutions result in overly complex system integration.
Instead, cognitive abilities should be included in the equipment and cognition should take place in both the robot and the human, such that the worker’s knowledge can be fully utilised and productivity demands can be met. Additionally, the concepts and symbols used in dialogues need to have a common grounding in order to guarantee ease of use.
The SMErobotics demonstrators
Therefore, we propose the SMErobotics work system, which covers all phases of the robot life-cycle and in which humans and robots can together deal with SME manufacturing uncertainties and are symbiotically able to learn from each other and to learn from the past handling of uncertainties.
The SMErobotics vision is to deploy such robots on SME shop floors, with the benefit of long-term improvements in productivity.
The SMErobotics initiative pays careful attention to SME-related issues and scientific challenges, as is reflected by its strong industrial involvement supported by leading researchers and building on successful collaboration between industry and academia as well as on demonstration-driven research from the SMErobot project.
Additional partners will be included in order to widen the initiative’s impact by transferring project results to European pilot applications of SME-compatible cognitive robot systems.