Next-Gen Robot Technologies Put to the Test

In the first of two Virtual Manufacturing Automation Competition (VMAC) matches, contestants used open-source evaluation tools to judge a computer plan of a robot picking up boxes of various sizes and weights from a conveyor belt and arranging them on a pallet for shipping. The second half of the VMAC used off-the-shelf computer gaming engines to create simulations that “virtually road tested” a robot team’s ability to load trucks with pallets delivered from a warehouse.

Drexel University (Philadelphia, Pa.) won the mixed palletizing contest and Hood College (Frederick, Md.) won the truck loading contest. In the Mobile Microrobotics Challenge (MMC), seven teams pitted their miniature athletes—whose dimensions are measured in micrometers (millionths of a meter)—against each other in two events.

In the microassembly challenge, the competitors had to put together multiple microscale components in a narrow channel to simulate two applications: operation within a blood vessel by future medical microbots and assembly-based micromanufacturing.

The University of Waterloo (Waterloo, Ontario, Canada) was the winner in the microassembly event, densely packing together a formation of triangular-shaped lattice components that was 45 micrometers in length. The Waterloo robot was the only one able to complete the task.

The third competition, the first-ever Solutions in Perception Challenge (SPC), Teams were evaluated on how well their sensing software identified and determined the positions of 35 common household items and 15 manufacturing components. Robust perception is a core skill for next-generation robots to operate successfully in both cluttered and uncluttered environments, such as factory floors, nursing homes and even disaster sites.

First place with a score of 68.78 percent went to the team from the University of California, Berkeley, with second and third taken by Jacob University (Bremen, Germany) at 66.41 percent and Stanford University (Palo Alto, California) at 53.61 percent, respectively.

Four other teams made up the contestant pool for the SPC: University of Freiburg (Freiburg, Germany); Rekno Robotics (La Spezia, Italy); the University of Arkansas at Little Rock; and the State University of New York at Buffalo.; Source: The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)