Recently, Enrico Krog Iverson, from Universal Robots, visited the office of IEEE Spectrum in NYC for a tete-a-tete with Erico Guizzo about the role of robotic arms in the future and how Universal Robots is ready to win the world with their brand of robotic arms.
Universal Robots is the creator of UR-5 and UR-10. They are different from most industrial robots because it is lightweight and compact.
It is also affordable and simply modifiable which was proven when Guizzo could make it throw a plastic glass from the table into a dustbin, during the interview. As a reporter, Guizzo learnt to handle it within 10 minutes of exploration; comparatively, a trained industrial worker would be able to accomplish much more quickly.
Based in Denmark, Universal Robots has sold more than 5000 units globally. The cost of UR-5 is $35,000, and the UR-10 is priced at $45,000.
These robots are implemented in the automation of tasks like tending to machines, glueing, packing, painting, assembling parts and polishing.
Iverson and Guizzo discussed at length about the company, their competition and its plans for expansion.
Foundation and mechanics
Esben Ostergard, Kasper Stoy and Kristian Kassow are the three founders of Universal Robots. Before they started, a lot of detailed research was conducted on modular robotics with complex setups.
They weren’t completely like the UR-5, but it was the same basic idea. As the company formed, they aimed at building flexible and safe robots which were simpler to deploy in an industrial setup compared to the robots that existed in the market at that time.
Evidently, their robots are different from the others in the market with regards to flexibility of use and designing standards. There is a complete 360-degree movement on joints, and this is not commonly available in other robots.
The robots incorporate safety features due to which collaborative applications can be developed, and they share the same workspace as humans. The robots are easy to program because it takes only a few minutes to learn how to operate the robots.
This is the reason that many people started to use the UR robots for a lot more applications than was otherwise possible.
In the Universal Robots robotic arms, there is a motor within all the joints, which works in coordination with the manufacturer of the motor. Universal Robots worked in collaboration of the Harmonic Drive to create different gears.
There are electronic components like the encoder system. The joints communicate with each other via software. It is a Linux system developed by Universal Robots.
To top it all, there is a Java user interface that makes the robots quite user-friendly. The company has the technology to monitor force in the safety system along with being a part of the programming interface.
The robot users can control force during the process of application development.
There is a standard industrial computer in the robot. It performs the calculations and the speed, momentum and force and constantly monitored.
The calculations are done on all the joints and the controller. The calculations are aligned every eight milliseconds and if there is something amiss the robot goes into safe mode. The software contains the safety protocol.
Talking about the company competitors like ABB and KUKA, and why they are not developing similar robots for the market, Iverson opines on their mindset and focus. Collaborative robots are quite high in demand right now, so other people will also be getting into this field.
However, they will continue to push their technology. The research and development team at Universal Robots is consistently working towards increasing the value for the end customers.
Customers are not interested in the technology just because it is cool; they want usability.
Their competitors, KUKA and Baxter, has a lightweight robotic arm on the market. There are companies like Roberta in Germany, who is developing a similar robot.
However, they focus solely on the arm, and their customers need to approach an independent vendor for the controller. Hence, in today’s market, there is only Universal Robots offering a complete package, both simplistic programming and a safe arm together.
The only things that Universal Robots does not supply are sensors, grippers and vision systems, which comes from their collaborative partners, and they are the ones who build the integrated system and deploy it to the end users.
Every year, sales have been doubling, and by March 2015, they had sold as many robotic arms as they had sold in the whole of 2009. They plan to hit $200 million revenue in 2017 through an inventory sale of 10,000 robots, as compared to 4000 in 2015.
Most of their sales are in Asia, America, and Europe. It is most likely to change because they expect the American and Asian markets to grow to the size of the European market.
Asia is already growing, and China has a great demand for robots. Simultaneously, the sales in North America and Latin America are encouraging.
Overall, Universal Robots is aptly poised regarding technology and market reach to govern the robotic market.