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Desi robot heralds new age for Indian science

Source: PTI
March 21, 2006 11:36 IST
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Indian scientists have developed a robotic arm, which could one day replace costly imported industrial automation products.

In efforts to develop robotics and automation, which could end the almost complete dependence on imports of robotic arms in industrial manufacturing, a 'pick and place robot' has been developed as part of the 'Home Grown Technology Programme' on the initiative of Technology Information, Forecasting and Assessment Council, under the Department of Science and Technology.

With its animation industry starting to make an impact in Hollywood; and its software industry already famous around the world, automation and robotics could be the hot new field for Tech-India.

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"The capability to built sophisticated robots is already in the country," says Dr Jagannath Raju, Director of Bangalore based Systemantics India, which manufactures the robot. "But the initiative has to be moved into the private sector (to be able to replace all imported machines)," he added. This could give a fillip to the assembly stage of manufacturing in the country as, according to TIFAC, imported robots are, "costly and suffer from poor service and spare parts availability."

"The functionality of the PP robot has been proven and there is a large market for it at its price point," feels Dr Raju.

But with industrial manufacturing still not as large as China and other western countries, Sajid Mubasir, Director, Home Grown Technology, TIFAC, says the "aim is flexibility, i.e, to develop versatile machines that could be used for different purposes so that it can be mass marketed."

"The prototype, although already in use, is still in the process of being upgraded to make it more sophisticated," says Arghya Sardar, a Scientist at TIFAC associated with the programme; although Dr Raju maintains that the only area left for improvement is to make the robot more "robust" or "rugged" so that it can withstand punishing industrial use, for which it is meant.

Besides being installed in centers like the Indira Gandhi Center for Atomic Research, IIT (Delhi), IIT (Mumbai) and BHEL, Bangalore, the robot has been bought by commercial companies including Minda, a security systems provider, Bangalore based Strategi Automation Solutions, and Pune based Twin Engineers Pvt Ltd. Also, "there are a lot of enquiries from abroad, of which one is Elfin, a technology company from the UK," says Dr Raju.

The PP robot is totally self-contained, i.e, all controls are built within the body. So like any appliance, the robot just needs to be anchored at a point and connected to a socket.

An exceptional feature of the PP robot has web integration, which means that it can be connected to the Internet, enabling remote assistance and diagnostics.

Also, the programming interface use PLC style ladder logic (a popular graphical language), eliminating the need to learn a programming language. And although the rated payload of the robot is 500 grams, it can lifts loads of up to 2 kg. This versatility enables it to be used in a variety of applications such as machine loading, palletising, packaging etc.

Although not quite comparable to the running and hand-shaking Japanese robot Asimo, the PP robot could herald the advancement of robotics in India. For now though, we'll settle for it just for the Made-in-India tag, albeit only an arm.

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