Fraunhofer IPA, www.fraunhofer.de

Schunk Inc., www.schunk.com

Engineers at Fraunhofer IPA, a German think tank for automation, recently upgraded a robot they built so it could help people with disabilities and the aging. The newly dubbed Care-O-bot 3 serves as a technology demonstrator and test bed for add-on technologies and future developments. The robot can identify, then pick up and move a variety of household items including a glass of water and other relatively delicate objects, according to the manufacturer. It can also set tables, vacuum floors, and operate thermostats and lights, along with a host of other tasks.

To simplify design and construction, Fraunhofer used a modular approach. One of the robot’s central modules is its arm, an LWA 3 (lightweight arm) from Schunk Inc., Morrisville, N.C. The LWA 3 has several more degrees-of-freedom in its motions — seven —- than many other robotic arms. This gives the arm humanlike mobility. Despite being relatively light, the arm supports 5-kg loads. Joint movements are stored as macros in a control unit for the joint modules, reducing the complexity of the overall control system. And joints use quill drives, so cables can be routed inside the arm, away from harm. A Schunk SDH gripping hand with built-in tactile sensors mounts on the arm.

In addition, two tilt-and-swivel modules from Schunk let the sensor-studded head rotate precisely while a PRL rotary module from the same company lets a removable service tray rotate off to the side.