While the robotics and automation industry is providing excellent technology for automating mass production, increasing competition is forcing also many small and medium-size companies to improve their production processes. These companies often do not have mass production, but have much smaller lot sizes, see frequent changes in the production setup, and generally need much more flexible organization of their production and logistics facilities. Some candidate tasks to be handled by innovative technology like mobile manipulators include:
- Feeding parts from a palette onto a machine
- Loading parts from machines onto a palette
- Feeding a set of parts from containers into a tray for a subsequent assembly process
- Performing preassembly tasks
- Packing parts and boxes into containers
- Unloading boxes from containers
- Sorting objects from unstructured heaps
- Wrapping objects (e.g. before packing and shipping them)
- Assembling complex objects from parts based on an example
- Painting objects according to an example given as image
- Moving parts and objects around
It should be noted that most of these tasks are such that they involve a logistics operations, i.e. moving parts from a usually not precisely specified source location to a not precisely specified target location. Insofar these tasks are quite different from the usual operations of industrial robots in mass production processes. Also, the target object to be manipulated may be underspecified: neither source nor target pose may be known and have to be determined dynamically, only the object class may be known (e.g. a box), but not its dimensions, requiring grasp poses to be determined dynamically. Scenarios for testing the above abilities can be set up to be deterministic initially, but varying degrees of dynamics and stochasticity (e.g. through failures, continuous arrival of new orders, etc.) can be added.
Several of the aforementioned tasks bear a large potential for cooperation, being it the cooperation between a parts loading robot and the truck onto which parts are to be loaded, the cooperation of several robots to complete a complex task, or the cooperation between robots and humans, where the robots assist the human e.g. in a complex assembly process.