Augmented Reality helps students see the future of robot programming

At UAS Technikum Wien in Vienna, students are using the latest Augmented Reality technology to see how robots move and interact with the world around them

Summary

The application:
Using augmented reality to teach robot programming to students  

The challenge:
Helping students learn about robot programming and how robots move and fit in around other factory automation and production machinery  

The solution:
With ABB’s RobotStudio AR Viewer, students can learn how a robot will interact with its environment in the real world via ABB’s Robot Studio offline programming solution.

Students at UAS Technikum Wien in Vienna are seeing the future of robot interaction, using the latest ABB Augmented Reality (AR) technology, RobotStudio AR Viewer, to learn more about designing and developing robot installations.

Using RobotStudio AR Viewer, which can be downloaded as a free app onto smart phones and tablets, students can see how a robot will interact with its environment in the real world. The technology helps them learn about robot motion, giving them a better understanding of degrees of freedom and multi-axis configurations.

Horst Orsolits, Head of Competence Center Virtual Technologies and Sensor Systems at UAS Technikum Wien, is introducing the technology: “We initially used CAD models of ABB robots and developed our own AR experience to superimpose information onto them to improve understanding of the complexity of a six-axis industrial robot,” he says.

“We then started training students on the ABB RobotStudio AR Viewer and how to use it. This is a very good extension of RobotStudio for students, allowing them to understand 3D movement and the six degrees of freedom using Augmented Reality robot applications. The most promising aspect is that it is really intuitive and pretty easy to use. There is some learning required, particularly on RobotStudio as students need to learn the basics but it is quite straightforward.”

A better view of robot installations

The RobotStudio AR Viewer app can be used to test any model created in ABB’s RobotStudio offline programming and simulation software tool, giving users an idea of the size and scale of a robot or robot cell. It also shows them how the robot could be deployed in a factory to work with any existing production equipment. The app overlays the modelled solution into the real-life production environment. Users can scale it to full size and rotate it through several angles to see the installation from all sides and ensure they have the correct layout and that the robot movements do not conflict with existing facilities.

Students are introduced to the technology and allowed to use it on their own to give them their first insights into what AR is and what it can do, as well as how to use it with RobotStudio to gain more experience of techniques such as path programming.

“A traditional learning workflow is when the programming in RobotStudio is completed, the lecturer approves that the programming is correct and then it can be transferred onto the real robot,” says Orsolits. “Using the RobotStudio AR Viewer app as a step in between, students get a better feeling for their application, a 3D impression of what they have programmed and avoid possible errors in their path planning for instance. RobotStudio is good, but the app gives a more immersive idea of what the installation and program would look like.”

Virtual working gives real benefits

One of the major attractions of AR Viewer, particularly for student use, is that there is a low entry barrier, as it is free and easy to use. With no complicated tools, manuals or tutorials necessary, all that’s required is a short explanation on how to export the model from RobotStudio and how to transfer it to the app and smart device.

“The tool helps students to understand things better when developing a solution – it could also be used to demonstrate incorrect or inefficient set-ups using the tool rather than the physical robot,” says Orsolits.

Orsolits and the UAS students have also found that AR Viewer is a stable experience with good tracking algorithms avoiding shaking or relocating of the AR objects. “We have typically experienced problems with shaking, tracking or locating in AR/MR experiences, depending on the complexity and size of the model being used – we don’t get this with the RobotStudio AR Viewer app.”

Meeting future needs

Orsolits sees the next step as being able to superimpose the AR onto an existing robot station. “We would like to make it possible for students to record what they program and then superimpose the AR robot model on to actual robot cells, so they can see how robot will move on the physical work object.”

Cooperation with industry would also be a useful way of giving students a wider perspective. “For larger set-ups, we plan to cooperate with industry partners who could use the RobotStudio AR Viewer app to explain how a production line works, both in terms of robots and other equipment and also where problems or issues may occur.”

AR is already catching the interest of commercial users as a training and communications tool. “Some production facilities have a strong emphasis on using AR to familiarize people or transfer new information to colleagues - the 3D experience makes it easier to deliver core information and enable visualization.”

In the future, Orsolits believes, robots will be programmed differently and there will be less use of handheld devices like ABB’s FlexPendant. “Mixed Reality might also give a better understanding of what’s going on inside a robot co-worker, particularly in flexible production systems such as bin picking where dynamic path planning is needed, and the next step or movement isn’t known in advance. In a highly automated environment things won’t change, but for flexible and individual production systems, there will be greater emphasis on how to interact with robots.”

The technology is also showing promise in conventional teaching. “We are starting a research project to integrate VR and AR into classrooms, as well as measuring student and lecturer acceptance and the benefits they experience and we will be doing something similar for RobotStudio AR Viewer,” adds Orsolits.

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