The robots may have taken over the automobile industry by building cars by the millions but there still lag behind in the assembly of air crafts. Assembling of airliners is a task where human workers are still considered essential. Four year joint research project has been initiated by the Joint Robotics Laboratory (JRL) and Airbus Group, to assist the human workers in the task. This will allow artificially intelligent humanoid robots to take over the assembly of the aircrafts and will free workers from the tiresome and risky jobs.
Most of the airliners are built through a process that lacks economy of scale needed to employ most assembly line techniques, on an assembly line. These techniques include the induction of robots in the task. This is not an easy task as the assembly of airliners is quite a complicated task. In fact it is considered as one of the most advanced and complicated pieces of engineering to this day. A car factory rolls out more units in a single day as compared to a whole production run of airliner assembly.
Robots with fixed bases and those with limited mobility are not considered ideal for this task, another reason for this consideration is because the interior of the airliners is complex with tight spots to get into and immense in size. This is why the manuals on assembly and maintenance of these airliners hold special details and illustrations to how to get into those tight spots to reach the desired location of the airliners. People with suitable physiques are specially hired by the airliner companies to perform the task. One of these tight spots is the wings. These reasons made it quite difficult to let a robot perform these tasks.
A team named JRL, comprising of National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST, Japan) and the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) are working to develop artificially intelligent humanoid robots capable of working in robot-unfriendly environments – just like the VALERI project. This will lead to the artificially intelligent robots performing lengthy and hazardous jobs, which will in turn allow the human workers to avoid those tasks.
For this task, these robots need to be capable enough to move around in confined spaces, this includes spaces with uneven surfaces, sensing nearby objects and avoiding collisions. Once the robot is in position, they’ll do tasks like insertion of parts, cleaning of the airliners, screwing, torquing and tightening of bolts. And then report back when the task has been completed.
According to the JRL team, the human-like shape of the artificially intelligent humanoid robots allows them to fulfill a larger number of tasks as compared to regular robots. This is because the air crafts are designed to be worked upon by humans, and artificially intelligent humanoid robots are the next best thing. HRP-2 and HRP-4 robots are used and the team is working on the development of such robots that have multi-contact locomotion. This will allow these robots to not only walk but also crawl around in tight spots, using their knees and hands, also climb ladders and stairs.
New algorithms are being developed by the JRL to carry out complex calculations which are needed for the robot to navigate through the aircraft interiors during the assembly phase and also the maintenance phase. They are also trying to add exception handling, this will allow the robots to modify their behavior according to the uncalculated events happening at run-time, such as unexpected hindrances while working. To operate at real time, the processing power of the robots needs to be really fast. Especially if the robots are coordinating the task with some human workers.
According to the JRL team, they are keeping in view how the artificially intelligent robots will help in the upcoming 10 to 15 years, anticipating developments in both the field of robotics as well as the civil aircraft and helicopters, as well as spacecraft. This will allow them to improve the airliner assembly process immensely.
“Given the unique nature of aviation assembly and the specialized character of the tasks involved, Airbus Group has very well-defined needs,” says the director of the JRL, Abderrahmane Kheddar. “For instance, robots must be capable of navigating through narrow spaces such as fuselages, and executing complex tasks from a variety of positions. In short, the manufacturer needs artificially intelligent humanoid robots that can make human movements such as kneeling or leaning, and that can perform more sophisticated functions, such as screwing or torquing.”