Robotics: The Robot In Virtual Reality

VR applications in industry can be used in a variety of ways, for example to train for maintenance work. some reports on its experience and shows how it can work.

Virtual Reality (VR) is the deceptively real simulation of three-dimensional spaces with the computer and has long been used in some areas in the industry. A common application is for training purposes – since 2017 some corporates has also been using a VR application from Technology Marketing to train employees for service work on complex robots.

Train Robot Maintenance Virtually

For example if we take a company named Ecoclean in Monschau near Aachen develops and manufactures cleaning systems and machines for parts cleaning, mainly in the automotive industry. Engine and gearbox housings, for example, are cleared of chips and dirt of all kinds before assembly. Robots are also used here: The Scara cleaning robot moves the corresponding housings within the cleaning chamber in the flexible Ecocflex 3 cleaning cell. This manipulator has to work in very harsh conditions. For example, chemicals with a pH value between 6 and 10 are used for the cleaning process at temperatures of up to 65 ° C. To maintain the functionality of these robots, they have to be serviced.

CAD Data Become Realistic VR Models

Some has developed a VR solution for this application and have supplied both hardware and software. So that the virtual reality is close to the real one, Tema has developed a realistic VR model of the robot arm from the robot’s CAD data. In virtual reality, as in reality, it can be moved in all freedoms.

The grouping of the individual elements is particularly demanding when designing a VR application: If a part of the robot arm changes its position, the associated screws must also move; if the whole arm turns, all groups of the arm must follow.

Another challenge is the synchronization of several employees in the same virtual room. A software for VR games helped further: With the help of the Unity Engine, the programmers were able to import the 3D models into the virtual space, the mobility of the individual parts, and the synchronization of all participants. In fact, the technology drivers for VR applications come from the games industry.

How Virtual Training Works

The instructor guides a service employee in the virtual room. Working together in whole groups on the training device is also possible with the solution. The program prevents two participants from turning the same screw at the same time – even if the participants are physically far apart. The connection works via the Internet, a stable connection is sufficient to transmit the not very data-intensive commands for control and voice chat of the participants.

In order to make the training realistic, you can only close the gear cover in the virtual room when changing the oil when the oil has also been refilled. This ensures that the individual work steps are trained in the correct order and complete.

Thanks to the tracking function of current VR systems, you can move freely on a defined area and walk around the robot. The others present in the virtual room, for example the trainer, can be recognized by the display of their headset and the controller they are holding in their hands.

Demanding Hardware Required

Proper programming is important for smooth functioning. The developers programmed C # in the object-oriented programming language. By using the common control software Steam VR, the application can be used with the VR glasses HTC Vive or Oculus Rift.

Conclusion: Not Only Useful For Training

After three years of use, experts draw a positive conclusion: “If we look at the three years of using the VR tool in some companies they said We are very satisfied. With the VR application, we can show special functions of the Scara robot and details of its design before the first physical contact. This is a decisive advantage when it comes to efficiency in maintenance processes in the production environment. ”

Before the start of their rather expensive face-to-face training, service technicians have already gained a realistic impression of the maintenance environment. If you familiarize yourself with the maintenance processes with the VR application, the next step is to have a motivating deja vu experience in physical contact with the machine.

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