Robots connected to the cloud to drive productivity
Visitors to the Microsoft Ignite conference in Sydney last week were given a taste of the future, with technology on display that is set to change the face of manufacturing as we know it. With 350 experts from many of the world’s leading IT and software companies, Microsoft Ignite — The Tour was a tech lover’s paradise.
The two-day event featured more than 100 ‘deep-dive sessions’ and workshops to gain practical insights and best practices on the future of cloud development, data, IT and business intelligence.
One demonstration that attracted much attention was a collaboration between electronics giant Omron and global cloud-solution specialist rhipe. On display was a Techman TM collaborative robot supplied and programmed by Omron and connected to the cloud by rhipe using the Microsoft Azure platform.
“For the first time we were able to show how these traditional robots, which have never talked to the cloud, can be used more efficiently,” said Sridhar Deenadayalan, the head of Azure Practice at rhipe. “By marrying this equipment to the cloud as part of the IoT, it opens up a big window of opportunity for a broad range of industries.”
As part of the demonstration, the robotic arm was sent a request through the cloud to carry out a set of tasks. This included selecting either chocolate or health bars and handing them to a group of people of different ages and genders.
“This was a good demonstration of how an industrial-grade robotic arm can seamlessly integrate with the Azure IOT platform,” said Deenadayalan. “This [technology] could be potentially used on a manufacturing sorting line to look for specific items where it can sort through and select certain goods.”
But the real benefit, he says, is using a cloud-based solution to monitor the entire manufacturing process. Data can be pulled from a device (such as a robotic arm), sent to a special dashboard and analysed.
“Statistical and telemetry information could be used to determine how a machine is performing in real time,” he said. “This means companies can assess the efficiency of the equipment on the floor and perform preventative maintenance if needed.”
And such technology is not limited to manufacturing. Other applications could include farming and agriculture, where robots could be used to choose best-quality fruit and to also package it. It could also be used in health care, including physiotherapy for people with disabilities: the robotic arm could be programmed to perform repetitive tasks like stretching an arm or leg a number of times regularly on a given day — all controlled through the cloud.
“A robotic arm now comes with a variety of different grippers for a broad range of tasks,” said Deenadayalan. “So applications such as physiotherapy could potentially work.”
It would also be ideal in the pharmaceutical industry, working with materials that are hazardous or contagious. The robotic arm has the added advantage of being able to perform delicate and precise manoeuvres and measurements. It could be deployed when dealing with material such as DNA samples, where it is imperative to avoid contamination from human touch or presence.
The Microsoft Ignite demonstration was the result of a five-month collaboration between rhipe and Omron. Deenadayalan said rhipe will continue its collaboration with Omron to develop further cloud-based industry solutions beyond the robotic arm.
“Omron has a suite of IoT products, so we are keen to find new cloud solutions for our customers and partners and eventually to commercialise those products.”
rhipe was one of 75 leading IT and software companies taking part in the Microsoft Ignite tech conference at the International Convention Centre in Sydney from 13–14 February.
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