Programming their future colleague

What can an engineering career involve? First-year master’s students of applied physics and electrical engineering are gaining experience through their first development project – programming the Yumi collaborative robot from ABB.

Two persons works with a two-armed robot. Filip Källman and Julia Lövström are first-year master’s students in applied physics and electrical engineering with an international alignment. Anders Ryttarson Törneholm

“When we came to test our program in the lab, we found that the robot didn’t behave in reality as our simulations had predicted. This is why it’s valuable to be able to get into the lab with the robot and test the programs. And it was great to be given a concrete problem and have to work in a structured and systematic way to solve it”, says Julia Lövström, first-year master’s student in applied physics and electrical engineering with an international alignment, also known as the “Yi programme”.

The assignment was to program a two-armed and collaborative robot known as Yumi from ABB to hold a mobile phone in one arm and use it to film an object from different angels while holding a lamp in the other arm to illuminate the object. Much of the work was carried out in distance mode due to the corona pandemic, which meant that time in the lab was limited. Filip Källman is another first-year student on the Yi programme:

“It was difficult to work on such an abstract task as programming the robot, given that we did most of it in distance mode. But we learned a lot from it”, he says.

Flexible

Robots have been extensively used in manufacturing industry since the middle of the 1970s, and a first patent for an industrial robot was granted as early as the 1930s. For reasons of safety, industrial robots have previously been used only in isolated surroundings where no one can get close. A two-armed robot is programmed by student.Yumi stands for "you and me" representing the collaboration between man and machine.
Photo credit Anders Ryttarson Törneholm
This, however, is changing rapidly, as lighter robots designed to work side-by-side with human colleagues are being developed.

Svante Gunnarsson is professor of automatic control in the Department of Electrical Engineering and director of Link-Sic – a competence centre for industry-focussed research in sensor informatics and automatic control. He points out that one advantage of using a robot is that it can move in a more exact and predetermined manner than a person moves.

“It is much easier to introduce collaborating robots into surroundings that are difficult to fully automate. In addition, they are more flexible than traditional industrial robots, since it’s easy to move them between different work tasks”, says Svante Gunnarsson.

Strategic collaboration

The area of application for a collaborative robot can range from assembly and quality control during industrial production to work in hospitals and laboratories. It can also be used for various service-related functions. But even a collaborative robot must be programmed to carry out its tasks. And this is something the students on the Yi programme learned during their Engineering Project course.

The course is intended to give a first insight into an engineering career by conducting a technical development project as part of the five-year course of study. It is, however, also an opportunity to work with other, equally important, skills for future engineers such as teamwork, written and oral communication, and the ability to work from a project model.

“Our students of engineering must be prepared for professional life immediately after taking their degree, so we are proud to be able to offer the opportunity to work in such an intense ‘hands-on’ manner with cutting-edge technology as early as the first term of the programme.”

“LiU can use the Yumi robot due to the strategic collaboration between LiU and ABB that has been in place for several years. The agreement acts as an ‘umbrella’ for all collaboration that exists between ABB and LiU. The competence centre Link-Sic is an example of one of these activities that is important for the Swedish industry of the future”, says Svante Gunnarsson.

Yumi – brief facts

The Yumi robot from ABB has two arms and has been designed to carry out tasks such as assembly and picking in applications that do not need large forces or heavy tools. Yumi has been designed such that people can be present in its vicinity during operation.

Translated by George Farrants

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