Mobile robots for moving-floor assembly lines
Design, evaluation, and deployment
Robots that operate alongside or cooperatively with humans are envisioned as the next generation of robotics. Toward this vision, we present the first mobile robot system designed for and capable of operating on the moving floors of automotive final assembly lines (AFALs). AFALs represent a distinct challenge for mobile robots in the form of dynamic surfaces: the conveyor belts that transport cars throughout the factory during final assembly. In this article, we identify the key behaviors necessary for autonomous navigation along dynamic surfaces, develop a control strategy to achieve trajectory tracking on such surfaces, and design a sensing module capable of detecting conveyor belt speed and location in a factory setting. These solutions are integrated with localization, path planning, and car tracking to achieve autonomous navigation. The system is implemented via Rob@Work 3 (a robotic platform designed for industrial applications) and the Robot Operating System (ROS). The integrated system is evaluated on an operational automotive factory floor alongside human workers. A mobile robot capable of working on moving floors (conveyor belts) alongside human associates can provide greater flexibility when designing automotive manufacturing processes, yielding ergonomic benefits for users, improving task performance and efficiency, and opening avenues for novel robotics applications.