Key Technologies Defining Robotics – From Static Arms to AMRs

10-12-2020 | By Mark Patrick

What will the series cover?

In this series of six blogs, we take a look at the key technologies defining the way robots are being designed and used today, and how that may evolve in the future. It will cover developments at the hardware and software level, and how innovations such as AI are already shaping the future of robotics.

Blog 1: Key Technologies Defining Robotics – From Static Arms to AMRs

Blog 2: Key Technologies Defining Robotics – Mobility and Dexterity 

Blog 3: Key Technologies Defining Robotics – Positioning and Navigation 

Blog 4: Key Technologies Defining Robotics – Robot Operating Systems

Blog 5: Key Technologies Defining Robotics – CoBots and AI

Blog 6: The Future of Robotics 

From Static Arms to AMRs

The idea of a robot, as we understand it today, was formed in the 1950s.  A patent was granted to George Devol (Inventor) in 1954 for the design of a device that could carry out programmable article transfer; what we would now call a robotic arm. 

The resulting device, the Unimate, was a huge success and is widely accredited as the first industrial robot. It had a good range of movement; 3 axes and a rotating gripping ‘hand’. It also had enough memory to store around 250 discrete steps. Its accuracy was excellent even by today’s standards. That repetitive accuracy was fundamental to its success. 

Fast-forward 60+ years and we’re still using robotic arms that are recognisable as descendants of Unimate. Static robotic arms remain incredibly useful in an industrial environment, carrying out the repetitive, manual tasks that cause humans fatigue but present no challenge for robots. 

While outwardly similar, huge innovation over the last several decades has reshaped the static arm robot massively. They now have a much greater range of movement, with far more dexterity, enabling them to do such things such as: 

  • Pick up different shaped objects 

  • Manipulate tiny objects

  • Perform intricate functions 

In the automotive industry, robots are a common sight on the production line. They carry out tasks such as:

  • Welding

  • Spray painting

  • Assembling components

  • Moving large, heavy objects 

A European Research project known as FishSHOAL is using robotic fish that work together to monitor the quality of water in our oceans. If you haven’t already seen it, take a look at the SmartBird, an ultralight flying robot that works beautifully by mimicking nature, in the form of a herring gull.  

Robots are here to stay

In the operating theatre, surgeons now use robotic arms to perform delicate operations. The surgeon may even be on a different continent at the time. This telepresence, coupled with remote control is one example of the enhancements in levels of control. Similar levels of innovation in the control software means robots are becoming more able to operate alone every day. 

Technical innovations covered in this blog series are leading to new types of robots. One of the most recent is the Autonomous Mobile Robot or AMR. This class of robot demonstrates advancements in two areas: 

  • The ability to move around their environment, rather than being static.

  • Autonomous movement, rather than only following a pre-programmed or pre-defined path. 

These include several innovations in sensor technology used by robots to control their moving parts. Other sensors used to help robots move around are 3D MEMS, Time-of-Flight and LiDAR.  Software and robot operating systems, also covered in the series. So too, will the new breed of collaborative robots and how artificial intelligence can make robots even smarter. 

These technologies will see the AMR, or Autonomous Mobile Robot, become an important sector within the industry, expected to be worth over $200 billion in 10 years. 

And if you are ready to start developing a robot of your own, take a look at Mouser’s additional resources to find all the solutions covered in this series, as well as many more ready-made solutions and other building blocks. 

Mouser Electronics

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By Mark Patrick

Mark joined Mouser Electronics in July 2014 having previously held senior marketing roles at RS Components. Prior to RS, Mark worked at Texas Instruments in applications support and technical sales roles. He holds a first class Honours Degree in Electronic Engineering from Coventry University.