Siemens Is Building An Army Of Collaborative Spider Robot Factory Workers
In the 1936 film Modern Times, Charlie Chaplin plays a factory worker whose only job is to tighten two bolts—again and again, all day, until he finally goes mad. It’s the life of his robot descendants, which might, for example, weld the same car part over and over again. That model is reaching its own breaking point, says German industrial giant Siemens, because it’s too clunky to keep up with market demands.
“We’re going to see more complex products that consumers or different industries want us to manufacture,” says Livio Dalloro, head of research for Siemens Corporate Technology. “The costs to bring [an assembly line] up and then essentially bring this down, when you are going to be switching to a different product, are pretty high.” In other words, the costs of reconfiguring a traditional production line for a new product get in the way of being able to quickly iterate on product design.
Siemen’s solution: a swarm of general-purpose worker robots that can be assigned a task and then figure out among themselves how to get it done. Dalloro’s team at Siemens’s lab in Princeton, New Jersey, has built spider-like 3-D printers that crawl around as a coordinated team. Looking like an arachnid Wall-E wearing a fez, each bot has a head with a 3-D depth-sensing camera similar to an Xbox Kinect. On top of that is an infrared la