The first robots reached the world of industry over 60 years ago. Since then, for security reasons, they have performed their work isolated in cages, and that prevented collaboration between workers and machines. The research centre Tecnalia Research & Innovation is embarking on a new era by incorporating into European industry the first robot capable of working shoulder to shoulder with people. There are two aims: to improve the capacities of the workers in conditions of safety; and to increase the competitiveness of the factories in international markets. For this it has the robot Hiro, Japan’s most closely guarded secret in recent years in the sphere of industrial robotics.
Assisted by Tecnalia, the robot Hiro has made its first trip outside Japan. For years, Japan, the leader in industrial robotics, has been developing this technology while regarding it as “protected national heritage” which it did not share beyond its frontiers. But now it has placed its trust in Tecnalia, so that Hiro can be adapted and join companies worldwide, starting with Europe.
Through Hiro, Tecnalia is aiming to ensure worker safety, increase the capacities of European manufacturing plants, and fight off the competition existing in international markets. So it has committed itself to combining the intelligence of the human being with the characteristics of industrial robots, since 99% of the tasks are more efficient if the two are combined. What is new about Hiro is that it is a social robot, in other words, it is built to share working space with people in conditions of absolute safety, and should it come into physical contact with any human being, it is programmed to stop automatically. It should be added that robots will undertake to carry out tasks that could signify a health hazard for the workers, and that way staff safety can be guaranteed to a maximum.
It is reckoned that within six years 60% of the industrial base state-wide that performs final product assembly work will have this type of robot on its production lines. The sectors set to benefit from this new technology will be the automotive, auxiliary, plastics, food, timber, beverages, agricultural, aeronautical, railway and energy ones, among others.
The robot inside and outside
The robot Hiro, developed by Kawada Industries, has a humanoid appearance in its upper part and a robot's body below. According to the Japanese philosophy, equipping robots with a human appearance encourages their entry into the labour environment and their interaction with the workers. That is why the upper part has a head, a trunk and two extremities ending in the form of a hand. It also has a total of four eyes, two on the face and one on each hand, to help it perform tasks that are uncomfortable or hazardous for human beings. But underneath it has a mechanism with wheels to enable it to move around, a more operational solution as it is a robot designed for industry.
Tecnalia is developing the robot’s intelligence in order to adapt it to industry, so that it can carry out different actions in a range of scenarios depending on the needs of each factory and each client. It is about addressing the real needs of industry. For this purpose, Tecnalia was able to rely on the experience and industrial vision of the aircraft manufacturer AIRBUS, one of its strategic clients. Both companies went to Japan where they were able to analyse together the capacity of this robot to respond to the real needs of industry.