Imagine the interior of a cavernous structure, a factory or airplane hangar, for example. And inside this spacious room, a swarm of robots, dozens, if not hundreds of autonomous machines, scaled up to the size of giant forklifts, are working together, like army ants, to build a commercial airplane, layer by layer, instead of assembling and riveting metal sheets. For more information see the IDTechEx report on Mobile Robots and Drones in Material Handling and Logistics 2018-2038.
Sounds utopian, but Austin Williams and his colleagues at AMBOTS beg to differ. This technology aims to automate manufacturing with a swarm of smart and autonomous mobile robots, from everyday products to houses and infrastructures. Just like how a swarm of bees or wasps would work together to build their nests, the swarm of smart mobile robots can work together to print and assemble products based on digital models on demand. AMBOTS stands for Autonomous Mobile roBOTS and Advanced Manufacturing roBOTS.
The core idea at AMBOTS is to realize autonomous manufacturing by breaking down digital designs into a set of primitive manufacturing tasks that can be executed by specialized robots. The team at AMBOTS, are developing a crew of mobile robots with specialized functionalities to automate and coordinate these tasks including mobile 3D printing, digital assembly, chunk based 3D printing and swarm 3D printing.
"What we've done is made 3D printing scalable, so you don't have to buy individual machines to print different sizes, and you don't have to shell out a ton of cash if you need a big printing system," Williams says in this month's Short Talks From the Hill, a research podcast of the University of Arkansas.
Williams is co-founder and chief software architect for the startup technology company located at the Arkansas Research and Technology Park. He and co-founders Wenchao Zhou, who serves as chief technology officer, and Lucas Marques, chief design officer, are building a "swarm" of robots that can work cooperatively to perform complex manufacturing tasks, including 3D printing, automated assembly, screw-driving, cutting, machining and welding.
"Right now, we're trying to figure out the minimum set of robots needed for a generic digital factory," says Zhou, who is also a professor of mechanical engineering and director of the AM3 Lab, where he, Marques and Williams are working on the future of manufacturing.
Source: University of Arkansas/AMBOTS
Top image: University of Arkansas