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KUKA Roboter enhances perception of reality in robotics

Augsburg/Germany, March 2006 – Augmented Reality is a field of research concerned with enhancing the range of real sensory perceptions by supplementing them with artificially generated representations. In other words, reality is combined with virtual images. The concept is familiar to most people from the area of computer games – or from the automotive industry, where vehicles can now be equipped with a function which enables information to be projected onto the windshield for the driver to see. This technology can also be beneficial in the operation of robots. Just how it can be used is being demonstrated by the Augsburg-based company KUKA Roboter GmbH at CeBIT 2006 in Hanover. There it is presenting the KUKA Augmented Reality Viewer at the booth of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research in Hall 9.

It consists of a software package which projects information from the robot controller into the operator's field of view, thereby considerably simplifying the work of setting up, commissioning and programming a complex robot system. Both beginners and experts can benefit from the on-site visualization of coordinate systems and path and process information. It is even possible to simulate complete robot programs in real time in the actual robot cell and modify them where necessary.

Always in search of new technologies and innovative ideas, KUKA Roboter GmbH has set itself the goal of decisively simplifying the interaction between humans and robots.

By applying current research results from the area of Augmented Reality (AR), the company has succeeded in helping customers to understand the robot better and to use it more efficiently.

On the basis of research and development work carried out in the context of the MORPHA lead project (1999-2003) funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), KUKA Roboter GmbH developed and implemented a number of AR concepts to assess the suitability of this technology in the field of industrial robotics. The focus of the work was on user training, programming and operation, as well as maintenance and servicing. It emerged that highly interesting forms of operator assistance can be realized, particularly in the area of robotic training. World, base and tool coordinate systems, as well as motion and path information, can all be projected directly into the user's field of vision. It is also possible to run a complete simulation of a programmed robot motion in the real cell.
In practice, this works as follows: the robot is filmed in its work cell using a video camera. At the same time, a virtual representation is generated from the perspective of the video camera. The two sets of images are finally combined to form an augmented image. On a monitor or through a special pair of glasses (head-up display), the viewer sees the real robot in motion, augmented by the virtual representation of operating and program information. Now the user can program a simulated application on a real robot, without the risk of collisions between the robot, tools and components. Any programming errors can thus be detected and corrected before the program is executed under real conditions.

The possibilities afforded by the use of AR technologies are manifold. The KUKA Augmented Reality Viewer not only demonstrates that AR can be used to provide valuable assistance to robot novices but also opens up a multitude of perspectives for the entire field of industrial robotics: throughout the life cycle of the robot, the KUKA Augmented Reality Viewer can help to boost efficiency – from planning and commissioning to programming and servicing.

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