SAN ANTONIO—The Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) has launched a Collaborative Robotics Laboratory to deliver advanced automation technology to the heavy industry and manufacturing sectors.

The facility features cobots in a flex-lab setting where engineers develop agile, mobile, automated capabilities. It includes meeting rooms for industry events and training.

“Cobots, when combined with adaptive perception-rich software, can perform complex tasks safely next to humans,” says Paul Evans, director of SwRI’s Manufacturing and Robotics Technologies Department. “Demand for SwRI’s technical expertise in these areas inspired this capital investment in next-generation robotics.

“While conventional industrial robots are typically walled off from humans for safety, cobots are different,” explains Evans. “They work alongside human operators performing manual tasks and heavy lifting.”

SwRI engineers will develop deep-learning algorithms, perception technologies and advanced path planning capabilities that enable robots to collaborate with humans while performing multiple tasks.

“The lab’s goal is to demonstrate how robots and humans can interact in safe, mutually beneficial ways,” notes Evans. “Our projects often work across disciplines like biomechanical engineering, robotics and software development.

“Engineers will use the lab as a test bed for software development, working in close proximity to smaller cobots before porting advanced capabilities to larger industrial robots,” says Evans. “The SwRI-managed ROS-Industrial Consortium will also use the lab for open-source robot operating system projects. One project features a robotic arm that fuses markerless motion capture technology with machine learning to autonomously pick and place objects from human hands.”

The Collaborative Robotics Laboratory will support client projects, internal research, industry workshops, software development, and manufacturing assistance with science and engineering solutions from SwRI’s diverse technical disciplines, ranging from deep sea to deep space and everything in between.

The SwRI-managed Texas Manufacturing Assistance Center South Central region is also developing courses for manufacturers to learn about integrating robotics into operations and supply chains.

“We want to introduce small- and medium-sized manufacturers to robots that will support the workforce, while creating career opportunities for skilled human operators,” says Evans.

To learn more about the Collaborative Robotics Laboratory, click or call 210-684-5111.

The SwRI will also be exhibiting at The ASSEMBLY Show (booth 255) in Rosemont, IL,  Oct. 23-25.