Fluid Actuators Could Improve Co-Robots

Motion control systems driven by servo motors are great for packaging and production. If you need something done with speed and precision, hundreds of thousands of times, servos are the way to go. There is a problem with big industrial machinery, however. Sure, it’s fast and capable, but it’s also dangerous. Human can’t get too close to industrial machinery, and there’s typically a gate or barrier in place to protect workers. But there is a growing demand for robots to work with humans, and that’s where co-robots come in. A new type of actuator developed by Disney could help improve co-robots.

What are co-robots?

Co-robots are safe enough to work alongside humans. This means that they’re not nearly as capable as industrial robots. But unlike industrial machines which replace the need for human workers, co-robots help make human workers more efficient. These versatile robotic helpers allow humans to do the jobs that cannot be automated better.

Co-robots are great, but they are far from perfect.

One issue with co-robots is that they are still fairly slow, and their movements are rigid. If a person wants to grab something from a shelf, they simply reach for it. It is naturally smooth and efficient. A robot, however, might move its hand over to the right, and then up to the shelf item, and then down, and then over to the left to its starting position. It does this with inefficiency and deliberateness that would be painful to watch if the robot were human.

Disney develops a robot that uses a new fluid actuator.

Disney designed a robot named Jimmy that relies on fluid actuators for movement. It’s movements are incredibly smooth. Rather than the strange herky-jerky mechanical moments usually associated with robots, Jimmy’s movements are as velvety as you’d like. The actuators use a blend of air and water to deliver the speed and torque that create the literally fluid movements. One of the developers claims that the fluid actuator can actually generate more torque density than servo motors.

This robot is currently remote controlled, but it’s possible that it could be automated one day. It doesn’t seem likely that these actuators would ever replace the servos found in industrial motion control systems, but it’s absolutely feasible that this technology could be applied to co-robots in the near future.