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Even though heavy-duty robots can already operate alongside their human coworkers without safety fencing, direct interaction has to date been a no-go. Safety precautions dictate that the robot freezes as soon as a human sets foot in a sizable surrounding safety zone. The Fraunhofer Institute for Machine Tools and Forming Technology IWU has now come up with an unprecedented technology to make human-machine teamwork safer and more efficient, benefiting the entire manufacturing workflow.

This collaboration goes something like this on the shop floor: The robot recognizes human gestures, faces, and postures when a person enters its work zone. This data serves to make the teamwork safe and to control the robot. The human simply gestures with their hands and arms to instruct the robot to perform a task, whereby the robot is able to interpret even complex movements. “Our technology brings gesture control to industrial applications. To date, it has been used mainly in gaming applications, for example, for consoles,” explains Dr. Mohamad Bdiwi from Fraunhofer IWU. This human-robot interaction comes courtesy of smart algorithms and 3D cameras that lend the robot the power of sight.