Productive Robotics adds ‘human senses’ to OB7 teachable robot

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CHICAGO — Productive Robotics Inc. unveiled a full line of collaborative robots at Automate/ProMat 2019 here this week. The Santa Barbara, Calif.-based company has added what it described as a unique “enhanced human sense of vision” to its teachable systems.

Productive Robotics has moved from an unconventional origin to developing the OB7 collaborative robot, or cobot, that it claims is easier to use than the competition. “The Productive Robotics design and engineering team started building robots for movie special effects in the 1980s,” stated Zac Bogart, president and CEO of Productive Robotics.

Productive Robotics entered the market in 2017 with its OB7 robot arm. Users can instruct the OB7 through positioning and a simple user interface rather than through programming.

The seven-axis cobot can reach around objects or obstacles where others can’t, Bogart said. Unlike a human arm, each of OB7’s joints can rotate 360 degrees in both directions, allowing the cobot to operate in more confined work spaces and areas that a six-axis robot can’t reach, such as for machine tending.

OB7 gaining senses, doesn’t need coding

The company has added the OB7-Max 8 and OB7-Max 12 to its line of “no programming” cobots. The OB7-Max 8 and OB7-Max 12 can handle larger payloads with a longer reach than other cobots, at 8kg (2.2 lb.) and 1700mm (66.9 in.), and 12kg (26.4 lb.) and 1300mm (51.1 in.), respectively.

Productive Robotics said its OB Vision system provides a “human-like sense of vision.” Bogart said the OB7 will also include a sense of touch later this year. He spoke with The Robot Report about the OB7’s capabilities and how businesses unfamiliar with robotics can benefit.

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How did you improve the sensor capabilities in your robots? How long did it take to develop them? Do you work with specific sensor providers?

Bogart: “Sensors” is a broad term these days. OB7 is packed full of sensors for measuring different aspects of the robot’s functions and environment.

One example is measuring the robot’s position. We developed a new type of absolute encoder system. This took a while to get right. We worked with a chip manufacturer to customize a chip it already had in production to work for our new design.

The result is an absolute position encoder that costs approximately one-tenth of a commercial solution and is equally accurate. That cost savings went directly into lowering the selling price of OB7.

What does Productive Robotics mean by “embedded human senses” in its OB7 cobots?

Bogart: Each OB7 model can now be equipped with human-like senses that provide simpler, faster, and more efficient robot training and operation. OB Vision allows OB7 to automatically learn to recognize and pick up objects with a single button push.

Have you changed your General Equipment Interface, and if so, how? How many tasks can the OB7 learn and remember?

Bogart: There is effectively no limit to the number or complexity of jobs OB7 can learn and remember. With our new OB Vision capability, there is similarly no limit to the number of objects OB7 can learn to recognize and pick up.

Productive Robotics' OB7

Productive Robotics’ OB7 collaborative robot

If the user trains a robot by positioning it, how much programming did you have to do to enable it? How much is machine learning?

Bogart: OB7 learns by interpreting what the user shows it when moving it through the job. OB7 does not simply go from point to point, which is the norm. OB7 interprets the moves and positions that the user “shows” it, and from that, it creates movements that are efficient, smooth, and accurate. The best way to understand is simply to watch how it moves. Generally, OB7 doesn’t move “like a robot.”

What feedback have you received during the latest testing? Can you describe some use cases for the OB7?

Bogart: Perhaps surprisingly, the most enthusiastic feedback we receive from customers is often in the most basic, almost mundane, jobs. For example: tending a CNC machining center. A customer used OB7 for a job that was scheduled to take 20 days. OB7 finished the job in six days because it was able to work 24 hours per day.

Some customers also bring helpful ideas to us. An example is a customer who advised us on an idea for a fixture-less method of presenting parts for handling. We expanded on that idea and added software to make the process fully automatic.

What do you want people to take away from Productive Robotics at this year’s Automate?

We aim to set the new standard for simplifying robotic automation, and OB Vision is setting the standard for robotic vision. Here are what we consider some key differentiators:

  • OB7’s patent-pending “teach without programming” technology eliminates the need for operators to know how to code or program. Operators simply show OB7 the job by moving the robot. It saves and recalls stored automation jobs for future use.
  • OB7 also has seven joints, just like a human arm. OB7 can reach around objects and obstacles in work areas that are not possible for cobots with fewer axes.
  • OB7 is less expensive than competing cobots because it employs several new technical innovations. Examples include a new gearing system that allows high precision combined with lower cost and longer life, a new measurement system, and high-speed networking within the robots. They and other patent-pending features help to lower the cost of producing OB7. Some existing cobots were designed more than 10 years ago when these technologies did not exist.

Automate/ProMat 2019 attendees can see Productive Robotics’ cobots at its booth (N6957) at Automate in McCormick Place.