7 Ingenious Ways People Kept Using Robots During Lockdown

You wanted to work on your robot integration project, but then COVID-19 happened.

Suddenly you had to work remotely. You couldn’t access your workplace and couldn’t get working on your robot setup.

But, many ingenious people used robots to great effect during lockdown.

Here’s how they did it.

It’s understandable if lockdown put a damper on your robot integration project. It’s not easy to deploy a robot to your production if you’re miles away from the work floor.

Much of the integration work with robotics is indeed hands-on. However, as we explained in our previous article it’s possible to get a lot of work done on a robotics project even when you’re working from home.

Some robot users used the worldwide lockdown to really up their game in robotics.

While many people around the world were sitting idle, unsure of what they could do to keep their businesses moving forward, these ingenious people kept their robot projects going.

Now that we’re coming out of lockdown in many parts of the world, let’s have a look at those robot projects that kept things going.

1. Continuing Robotics Research from Home

A stream of robotics researchers decided to bring their robots home to work with them. This certainly makes sense when your robot is small and easy to carry around.

A recent article in IEEE Spectrum showed how roboticists from NASA, Carnegie Mellon University, iRobot, and many more companies have been able to integrate their robots into their working-from-home.

In some cases, the engineers continued with their robotic developments as usual. However, in many cases they incorporated the robots with their day-to-day lives, interacting them with pets, children, and household activities.

2. Conducting Lab Experiments

One of the great benefits of using robots in the workplace is that you can move your human workers onto more important tasks, leaving the robot to take over the dull, repetitive tasks.

Nowhere was this benefit more relevant than at the University of Liverpool. They enlisted a KUKA Lightweight Arm to carry out routine experiments on solar cells (their normal research activities) so that the researchers could focus all their attention on finding innovative solutions to problems related to the coronavirus pandemic.

The team found that they were able to work a thousand times faster using the robot than they had been able to previously. The robot was able to go through 700 experiments in a week, the same amount one student would manage in their entire doctoral degree.

3. Enforcing Social Distancing

One of the most headline-grabbing stories of robotics in lockdown has got to be this one. One locality in Singapore enlisted a Spot robot from Boston Dynamics to enforce social distancing rules in parks and common spaces.

Spot, which has recently been launched as a commercial product, patrols the parks a few times a day. It walks up to people who are too close to each other and warns them that they should stand further apart to comply with regulations.

In normal situations, this might seem like a rather draconian measure, more at home in a Terminator movie than real life. But, as the coronavirus is transmitted by being in close proximity to people, it makes sense to use a robot.

4. Manufacturing Protective Face Masks

While some manufacturers are seeing demand for their products fall during the crisis, one product that has shot up in demand is protective face masks. There has not been enough supply to meet the demand.

Automation providers jumped into action to help tackle this spike in demand and reduce bottlenecks in the manufacturing of face masks. Of course, they weren’t necessarily experienced in this type of automation before the crisis, with specialists in automotive and consumer goods automation switching their focus to disposable masks.

Robots have also helped to keep the manufacturing sector afloat in other ways during the crisis, as we explained in our article 5 Ways Robotic Manufacturing Can Help in a Crisis World

5. Keeping the Logistics Sector Moving

It’s fair to say that the logistics sector has kept the world moving during lockdown. Even though people have not been able to travel much, goods have continued to move around the world, keeping the markets going.

Robots have certainly played a big part in this with autonomous warehousing robots in companies like Amazon and Ocado allowing them to keep orders flowing without their workers getting dangerously close to each other.

Of course, supply chains have certainly been disrupted during the pandemic, as we discussed more fully in our article How to Beat Supply Chain Disruption With Robots.

6. Helping People Graduate from Afar

The lockdown affected almost every aspect of life that involves meeting people face-to-face. One situation that you might not have considered is graduation.

How do university students graduate when they can’t physically go to their graduation?

Students at Arizona State University were the first class in history to graduate virtually with the help of robots. They were still awarded their degrees by the Dean of the university, but the students were sitting at home… driving telepresence robots. As a result, they were able to get some of the experience of graduating from university without having to meet en-masse.

7. Programming Industrial Robots from Home

Finally, many engineers were able to continue programming their robots during lockdown, even when they weren’t physically close to the robots.

How?

By using robot simulation, they could develop and test their robot applications easily in a virtual environment. This helped them to iron out the kinks in the program so that, when they were finally able to get back in front of the physical robot, they could quickly and easily get it up-and-running.

So, how did you spend your lockdown?

Did you manage to keep working on your robot projects?

If not, there’s still time to get going and regain some of that lost time!

How did you spend your lockdown? Tell us in the comments below or join the discussion on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or in the RoboDK Forum.

Alex Owen-Hill

About Alex Owen-Hill

Alex Owen-Hill is a freelance writer and public speaker who blogs about a large range of topics, including science, presentation skills at CreateClarifyArticulate.com, storytelling and (of course) robotics. He completed a PhD in Telerobotics from Universidad Politecnica de Madrid as part of the PURESAFE project, in collaboration with CERN. As a recovering academic, he maintains a firm foot in the robotics world by blogging about industrial robotics.

View all posts by Alex Owen-Hill

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