Toward a Plug-and-Work Reconfigurable Cobot
The ongoing trend from mass-produced to mass-customized products with batch sizes as small as a single unit has highlighted the need for highly adaptable robotic systems with lower downtime for maintenance. To address these demands, this article proposes the development of a novel reconfigurable collaborative robot (cobot), which has the potential to open up many new scenarios within the rapidly emerging flexible manufacturing environments. As the technological contribution, we present a complete hard- and software architecture for a quickly reconfigurable EtherCAT-based robot. This novel approach allows to automatically reconstruct the topology of different robot structures, composed of a set of body modules, each of which represents an EtherCAT slave. As the theoretical contribution, we propose a method to obtain in an automatic way the kinematic and dynamic model of the robot and store it in universal robot description format (URDF) as soon as the physical robot is assembled or reconfigured. The method also automatically reshapes a generic optimization-based controller to be instantly used after reconfiguration. While this article focuses on reconfigurable manipulators, the proposed concept can support arbitrary serial kinematic tree-like configurations. We demonstrate the contributions with examples of the following: how the topology of the robot is reconstructed and the URDF model is generated, and a Cartesian task application for a cobot built with the basic modules, demonstrating the quick reconfigurabilty of the system from a 4-degrees-of-freedom (DOF) robot to a 5-DOF robot, in order to satisfy new workspace requirements.