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Robotic Systems Interoperability and Integration


The integration of robotic assembly systems within manufacturing facilities is impeded by the inability of robots to easily communicate with devices and sensors for perception, mobility, and manipulation. The next generation of these technologies is needed to achieve automated assembly at the level of human performance. Solving this integration problem is difficult due to the poorly-understood nature of the underlying information. Human assembly experts rely on training and experience using a wide range of sensing such as sight, touch, and sound in noisy and unstructured environments. This knowledge must be extracted into forms that can be exchanged and used in automated robotic assembly systems. Currently, these systems rely on custom hardware and software that are tailored to work in simple, constrained environments, with people enlisted to handle difficult tasks involving flexible materials, subtle alignment, and adroit fastening. The central idea of the project is to model the underlying information required to automate the composition and integration of complex robotic assembly systems, delivering an analysis, information model, protocol, software reference implementation, and test tools that enable manufacturers to quickly and easily put together robotic assembly systems with human capabilities using interoperable components. This benefits large manufacturers and small job shops alike, both of which must continually reconfigure their production systems in response to dynamic market changes. Vendors of next-generation robots, perception systems, mobility platforms, and manipulation technologies also benefit through the elimination of barriers to widespread adoption of their products, ensuring that the U.S. continues its manufacturing lead in these new areas. NIST's expertise in information modeling, performance measurement, and conformance testing provides the foundation for standards, and its facilities and industry relationships for validating results in virtual simulation, physical testbeds, and production pilots makes the organization uniquely qualified to carry out the research.


Objective - Enable manufacturers to quickly and easily put together robotic assembly systems with human-like capabilities using interoperable components, by delivering an analysis, information model, protocol, reference implementation, test methods, and tools.

What is the new technical idea? The new technical idea is to develop the information exchange methods and tools necessary to automate the composition and integration of complex robotic assembly systems. These methods include both the definition of information to be shared between the many parts of a complete robotic system, and the protcols used to share it. Information exchange takes place today for simple assembly systems, but lacks support for the advanced assembly operations that are needed to make breakthrough improvements in assembly time and cost. This new information spans high-speed, real-time sensor data through non-real time models of high-level assembly objectives. The information will be formally modeled and integrated within a standards-based framework that ties together robotic systems components for perception, mobility, and manipulation, includes their configuration and programming, and targets assembly operations not possible to automate today.

What is the research plan?
The research plan begins with an assessment of the state of the art in technology for robotic assembly, including the information models that underlie current technology, either proprietary or standard. This assessment will inform the development of new information models and communication protocols necessary to support advanced assembly, and identify the relevant standards organizations through which these models and protcols can be published. Validation of the models and protocols will take place in testbed activities throughout the NIST facilities and with industrial partners. Software reference implementations will be developed and deployed throughout the projects that comprise the overall smart manufacturing robotics program portfolio. These reference implementations will drive the validation efforts, and also serve as a tangible output that will help accelerate commercial deployment. In the final phase of the project, software test methods derived from the reference implementations will ensure that commercial implementations of the associated standards fulfill user requirements for conformance and performance.