As automation technologies advance, the team in the Mission R&D lab work to prove out new solutions, prototype applications for customers, and work to push technologies forward in automation. A recent application that our team proved out was Line Tracking in Motion, where they used a robot and 2D vision guidance system to pick a variety of shapes off of a conveyor while in motion. Earlier this year in September 2020, we participated in the Robotic Industries Association’s Robotic Week where our Chris Harling presented our line tracking cell and explained how it works. Read the full transcript below or click here to watch the video: 

Chris Harling:

Hi everyone. Welcome. Thank you for tuning in. Today we’re going to talk about Line Tracking and some of the cool things we can do with it and power that it has. In this video that’s playing on the screen right now, this is an example of using line tracking, as well as 2D vision guidance to pick shapes off a conveyor. In this particular application, we’re picking pieces of pork. And we’re using a regular shape tool to be able to find and locate the center of mass of the meat and pick it up. The line tracking helps the robot pick while the conveyor is actually moving. So as you see there, the gripper’s moving along the conveyor, as it goes for the reach. If the conveyor were to stop, the robot would stop. 

We also have our little vision down in the corner. That’s our 2D vision system. It’s finding both the semi-minor and semi-major axes. So that’d be the long and short axes of meat. And from that, it can calculate the rotation value and tell the robot what rotation to go to as it picks. One of the other cool things that we have in this demo is we’re using Soft Robotics soft grippers. They’re like little balloon fingers that inflate to grab something and then pulls vacuum to open back up. It’s really nice for any type of food handling or delicate parts where you don’t want to damage the parts by grabbing them with something harder. The grippers can grab it really softly.

As we watched this guy picking the meat, the next demo is going to be on vegetables and how we can tell the difference in shape between them. That’ll be coming up in a bit here when this finishes…

Here we see, we have apples, corn and cucumbers, and our shape tool is actually able to recognize different shapes of the apple, of the corn, and of the cucumber. And we’re able to place them in different spots on the conveyor. So here it’s going for the cucumber. You see a place. Next it goes for the corn, place it in the middle of the conveyor and the apple. And that shows a lot of the power of the 2D vision system, along with the line tracking. We don’t have to stop the conveyor to pick a part and we can pick multiple parts off of the conveyor using the 2D vision system to tell the difference.

This is pretty much the pick ability of our line tracking. Today I want to show you another demo that a line tracker can do, and that’s the ability to dispense on a moving part or do some welding or anything that requires coordinated motion between your conveyor and your robot. So I’m going to walk over to the robot here and show you guys some of the cool features that we’ve made.

Right here, you’ll see on my HMI, I’ve got a custom application I wrote and this application basically takes user input and turns it into X, Y position data for the robot. What all that means is I can draw shapes on the screen using my touch screen and then when I activate the robot, the robot will actually locate a whiteboard on a moving conveyor and draw the shape with a dry erase marker. As you see, it’s sending the registers to the robot, to the PLC first, and then to the robot. As this conveyor starts, the whiteboard starts moving down, the 2D vision system locates the whiteboard, and then the robot draws their shape. And the cool part about this is we can customize the dispense path based on input from a PLC or ultimately a SCADA system or something else at the plant. So we don’t have to hard code the values in the robot. If we turn on this feature, it’s called turn-off conveyor. That’ll stop the conveyor when the robot locates the part, that way we can draw more complex shapes. So if I draw here, could draw our little logo here.

And if you’ll notice the whiteboard isn’t square to the conveyor, we’re actually using the 2D vision system to find the rotation of the whiteboard and adjust the robot offset accordingly.   

Because we’re sending the data with the computer, we can do a lot of manipulation to the data. So one little example I have here is I’m going to leave the design the same. We’re going to come over here into the advanced tab and rotate my design 90 degrees. Now when I send it, it’s going to rotate 90 degrees on the whiteboard and the text will be all stretched out because I’m still drawing on the same size whiteboard.

And that’s our simple 2D line tracking. Some of the other things that this line tracking is capable of is circular tracking. So what that means is you could use a rotating index table and have the robot track that as it’s spinning around. So if you had a really slow rotating index table, you could actually have the robot draw a straight path on the whiteboard as it spun around, which opens up a lot more possibilities for us because we don’t have to take into account index time anymore if the conveyors or the index table is constantly moving. So that’s our line tracking. I’ll let this finish up and then if anyone has any questions, feel free to text them in the chat or unmute yourself and I think Chad will hear them and repeat them out loud to anyone. Well, thank you for tuning in.