This was a triumph...
This was a triumph...

Over the last few months, there has been very little showing on industrial robots here at Singularity Hub. That is truly a terrible circumstance, as some of the best and most innovative robots are being put to task in the industrial setting. Well, consider this the start of that wrong righted and take a look at ABB Robotics’ FlexPicker. As the name suggests, this nimble bot can grab anything that is put in its path (via conveyer belt) and gently place it in its proper space. Now, this might not seem all that revolutionary: even tiny kids can play the Milton-Bradley game Perfection. Why not just stick them on the assembly line and forego the cost of the robot? But the FlexPicker is oh so much more than that.

This thing is even faster than that kid with ADHD who just can’t sit still. For payloads of less than 100 grams, like small plastic pieces or pills, the FlexPicker takes just three tenths of a second to perform its task. That means that that by the time you can take the fastest Porsche 911 from zero to sixty miles per hour (about 4 seconds), the FlexPicker can pick up and move 13 objects and be well on the way to number 14. Don’t believe it? Take a look at the video from BotJunkie:

If lightweight objects aren’t on the conveyer belt, slower models are capable of lifting up to 3 kilograms at a sluggish seven tenths of a second per cycle. The system works by analyzing images taken from a camera mounted on the robot. The software is capable of discerning shapes and identifying the position on the conveyer belt, which is then used to control which objects the arm grabs.

Not only can the FlexPicker boast superhuman speed that would make even The Flash sweat, it also gets an A+ in the hygiene department. The robot is fully washable by current standards, making it ideal for use in clean rooms or food packaging situations. While that might not sound too interesting, it means that the robot is just as versatile as it is cool. This isn’t a one-trick pony.

The FlexPicker is already infiltrating our manufacturing lines, picking and flexing its way to faster production methods and more efficient packaging efforts. And the writing has been on the wall for quite a while: the robot is replacing human hands on the factory floor. It’s a sad thought, especially in this economy, that people would be forced out of jobs to make way for a robot that doesn’t necessarily have to put food on the table for its family. That twinge of sympathy for the man who spent a myriad of years on an assembly line, learning every nuance and quirk of the assembly process, makes the FlexPicker and its brethren a bittersweet testimonial to human engineering and shrewd capitalism.

But however the industrial robot is viewed, be it efficient and cost effective or a mechanical embodiment of corporate greed, it is a triumph of accomplishment and a technological marvel. Robots like the FlexPicker have come and they are here to stay. And if that stunning realization doesn’t cheer you up, perhaps this video would. Aren’t those little pancakes just adorable?

Andrew is a recent graduate of Northeastern University in Boston, MA with a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering. While at Northeastern, he worked on a Department of Defense project intended to create a product that adsorbs and destroys toxic nerve agents and also worked as part of a consulting firm in the fields of battery technology, corrosion analysis, vehicle rollover analysis, and thermal phenomena. Andrew is currently enrolled in a Juris Doctorate program at Boston College School of Law.