Our journal, the International Journal of Automation Technology, will soon be celebrating its 10th anniversary. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the editorial committee members and, on behalf of the editorial committee, to the researchers for their kind cooperation in submitting their papers.
As I wrote in the preface to the first publication, the Journal focuses on advanced automation technologies, ranging from fundamental technologies to a variety of industrial applications, to meet various industrial and non-industrial needs. The Journal covers all manner of automation technologies in the areas of design, manufacturing, assembly, inspection, transportation, logistics, machine tools, robotic systems, control systems and instruments, etc. There are other journals that focus on automation specific to scientific and fundamental research, but there is no other journal that aims to publish engineering research findings and practical developments.
Thus, the Journal provides a large number of practical examples of advanced automation technologies of interest to its readers. In addition, the Journal distinguishes itself by calling for papers under the specific themes, helping its readers to understand the current state of the art in each field.
I look forward to the further development of the International Journal of Automation Technology under the new Editor-in-Chief in the next decade.
I would like to extend my sincere congratulation on the tenth anniversary of the International Journal of Automation Technology. The journal has been successfully publishing, for the last ten years, original scientific papers, review papers, technical papers, and technical notes as well as special issues on dedicated topics, all related to recent advancements in automation technology. I am most respectful to not only the editors and the publisher but also the contributors of the papers for their continued efforts. It is quite unique that the journal covers a wide spectrum of scientific and technical topics in the field of automation technology, including manufacturing systems, production planning, robotics, machine tools, control, manufacturing processes, metrology, etc. The Journal has been contributing greatly to the engineers in various industries to improve their productivity and also to the scientists and researchers to conceive new ideas and to publish their research results.
If we look back on the developmental history of the machine tool, which is the key to manufacturing automation, it started as a manual machine and then evolved into a mechanized or powered machine tool, a numerically controlled machine tool, and then an intelligent machine tool. It is thus expected that information technology, including IoT, Industry 4.0, the handling of so called big data, and the intelligent control of machine tools and robots as well as advanced processing technologies will play important roles in advanced and automated manufacturing in the future.
I expect that the International Journal of Automation Technology will continue to be the major information source for the scientists and engineers who will create new values for manufacturing technologies in the future.
The manufacturing industry is undergoing profound changes. These are driven by digitalization and networking. Automation of processes are an important part of these changes. Many good solutions exist, many things still have to be researched and tested in practice. The exchange of knowledge and showing best practice applications are of great interest. With this in mind the International Journal of Automation Technology (IJAT) has gained high reputation in serving as a platform for knowledge exchange in the field. I congratulate on the 10th anniversary of the journal. In this spirit I wish the Journal to continue the prosper development also in future.
International Journal of Automation Technology (IJAT) was initiated by Prof. Takeuchi to fill the gap between manufacturingand its application in the presently automated factories ten years ago. The journal has received strong record of submissionswhich have passed through rigorous review process by highly established academics in the field. As a result, IJAT has become one of the key journals to disseminate research results from traditional manufacturing processes to most advanced nano-micro manufacturing, smart actuators, robots, micro-manipulators,control methods, and a number of key automation applications.
The Editors-in-Chief Prof. Takeuchi, associate editors, and editorial officer Mr. Wakai for the outstanding efforts which brought the journal to a world class level in past ten years. We appreciate all authors who contributed to the journal with their articles which made the journal successful.
Robotics has reached a top technological level in recent years, a level at which it can be successfully used not only in structured spaces (for less complex applications) but also increasingly in unstructured spaces. Robotics technology is now used effectively in hospitals for rehabilitation and assistive devices, in the home for domestic applications, in the space for autonomous robots and automated vehicles, in amusement parks for entertainment attractions, and on the ground for military applications. In industrial applications, robotics has enlarged its scope with high-speed robots, cooperative robots, and smart robotic devices for production set-ups.
These new applications have created new challenges in robotics. New materials have been developed to make frames lighter and smarter, new actuators and sensors have been made in compliance with specific applications and for more advanced performance, new flexible gripper devices have been produced with superior control systems, and new interfaces have been developed that are integrated with the devices and easier to use.
This special issue features 18 research articles related to the latest research results and practical case studies in robotics technology. Subjects include robots for rehabilitation, robots as assistive devices, robots for agriculture, robots for exploration, robots for automation and industrial applications, service robots, new actuators, new sensors, new gripping devices, new control strategies, and robotic systems.
We deeply appreciate the careful efforts of all the authors and thank the reviewers for their incisive efforts. Without these contributions, this special issue could not have been printed. We hope that this special issue will trigger further research on robotics technology.
Finally a special memory of Cesare Rossi, one of the authors, that died suddenly after the preparation of the manuscript.
This paper presents an investigation on the influence of the design parameters in an underactuated mechanical finger driven by un-extendable tendons. The study was carried out using simulations and experimental tests. The aim of the study is to analyze the behavior of the finger during its closing motion. Hence, this study can help in correctly designing fingers for underactuated grasping devices. Various design aspects and parameters were taken into account to optimize the dynamic behavior of the mechanism in the simulation. The actions of the tendons were modelled with the forces that the tendon exerts on the phalanges.
A three-fingered gripper with flexure hinges actuated by shape memory alloy (SMA) wires was designed and prototyped. The aim of the work was the manipulation of small, almost cylindrical objects, e.g. test tubes, by a device having small overall dimensions. A parametric study of four different, but similar, fingers was conducted with the aim of obtaining a solution with a good amplification ratio and a gripping force almost constant during closure. The use of flexure hinges simplifies the design, but limits the finger range of motion. Moreover, it was possible to find a configuration with sufficient work space. Once the finger geometry was defined, the whole hand was then designed with the aim of producing a compact hand contained in a cylindrical volume (φ 65×h 65 mm), and the first prototype was built. Preliminary tests demonstrated its good dimensioning and the success of some technological solutions. The experimental transmission ratio was almost the same as the theoretical one. Some drawbacks have been highlighted, such as a reduced range of motion and incomplete backstroke; future studies will deal with them.
The efficient energetics of human walking could possibly be used to fulfill the total power requirement of human knee, without requiring any additional sources of energy. This study intends to addresses this issue by examining the idea of a novel self-powered actuator for artificial knee joints of wearable robots. The self-powered Flywheel-Infinitely Variable Transmission (F-IVT) is an actuator whose only source of power is a flywheel that stores and delivers energy from and to the knee joint by changing the speed ratio of the IVT according to the phase of the gait cycle. This study evaluates the efficacy of this novel actuator by estimating the amount of energy it can deliver to the knee joint while the subject walks on level ground at varied speeds.
Several analytical models exist in the literature for predicting the behavior of braided pneumatic muscles (McKibben muscles). Such models take into consideration the various variables and parameters that are related to the muscle geometry, material properties, and the loads applied to the system, and propose various relationships between these variables. Owing to the complexity of the muscle structure, in several cases, instead of a physical model, empirical or experimental models are used, which generally have limited validity for specific muscle types, i.e., they are only valid for a restricted range of operating parameters. This study proposes a new analytical formula based on the geometry of a pneumatic muscle studied in the rest and work phases and a simple experimental method to obtain corrective factors useful to design muscles. A mathematical formula can thus be obtained that allows one to deduce the measurements of interest in the system as a function of the specific parameters and permits one to interpret in qualitative terms the behavior of the muscle at each moment for various values of pressure, contraction, and applied load and to identify any critical situations. This model can therefore be a very useful design tool because it allows one to adapt the muscle geometry based on the required forces and contractions for different applications that are compatible with the muscle structure on which the model is based. This paper also presents a method for evaluating the efficiency of the muscles, useful to better use them in different applications.
Several studies of input interfaces capable of recognizing the gestures have been conducted but most of them use the user’s fingers to enter the position data. These finger-based input interfaces are difficult to provide a so-called click & drag function (as in a mouse) and some of them request for the user to take uncomfortable gestures. When people pinch any objects, however, basically their thumb and index finger come into contact with each other or separate them from each other. These pinching gestures provide superior benefits as the gestures, which may contribute to the input interfaces. This study proposes the method for detecting 3D finger positions and estimating 3D hand postures in pinching gestures based on information on depth images captured by a depth sensor, especially from the viewpoint of robot design. That produces benefits including button-clicking-like input operation by means of contact between the fingers; user’s comfortable gestures as in daily life; clicking action independent of input of positions and postures; and clear identification between ON and OFF. As the evaluation of the 3D input interface proposed here, the authors design real products with the system and a 3D printer, suggesting that the users can design precise and fine 3D objects with his/her comfortable daily gestures with highest usability.
This study focuses on the specific problems that may arise in the development of a parallel, cable-driven device designed for teleoperations systems utilizing force-reflection feedback. A redundant six degrees-of-freedom structure, actuated by nine wires, is described as a convenient layout for a haptic master for telemanipulation. A methodology for the kinematic and static analysis and the evaluation of the device workspace is described. The condition of force closure is used to find all available poses of the end-effector, thereby defining the workspace, whose characteristics are assessed by opportunely conceived indexes. Typical characteristics of cable and implementations thereof in the device are considered. Regarding the realization of the device, relevant attention is given to the definition of the control logic, which can be complex for parallel devices. The selection of the actuators, crucial in realizing force feedback, is discussed. In particular, pneumatic actuation is considered, verified as the most appropriate method for implementation and force control of the cylinders.
Mantis 2 is a small-scale leg-wheel ground mobile robot, designed for exploration, surveillance and inspection tasks in unstructured environments. It is equipped with two actuated front wheels, two passive rear wheels, and two rotating legs with praying Mantis profile, specially conceived for step and obstacle climbing. Locomotion is purely wheeled on regular surfaces, with high energetic efficiency and maneuverability, and with stable camera vision. In case of obstacles or terrain irregularities, the rotating legs increase the motion capability. The main innovation of the second version is the introduction of passive one-way auxiliary wheels on each leg, which improve the efficacy of step climbing. The paper discusses analytical and experimental results on step ascent and descent and locomotion on irregular surfaces.
In the last decade, the underwater activities performed by archaeologists and biologists have benefited from scientific research on the guidance, control, and sensory systems of unmanned vehicles. In fact, because underwater sites of interest are often difficult for divers to access, the use of unmanned vehicle technology to conduct surveys could be quite advantageous. In this paper, a novel and partially-biomimetic underwater robot, referred to as BRAVe (Biomimetic Research Autonomous Vehicle), is presented. For documentation purposes, it is equipped with a hybrid propulsion system, which consists of two different types of thrusters. The thrusters are designed to compensate for their reciprocal flaws in order to achieve a more efficient overall system. Specifically, the biomimetic thruster is employed for its superior energetic efficiency, and the horizontal propellers are exploited for accurate maneuvering. While the documentation and 3D reconstruction of the underwater seabed is a consolidated aspect for the authors, the hybrid propulsion system represents the main innovation of the present work. The increase in efficiency achieved by this propulsion system allows the vehicle to perform a thorough and precise documentation of underwater remains within short distances, while exploiting the maximum possible autonomy. This article discusses the details of the development of all the vehicle compartments and their associated characteristics, focusing on the significance of this technology. In addition, the results of 3D reconstructions extrapolated from images taken during real field missions are presented.
In recent years, robotics and automation technology have spread significantly throughout the agricultural harvesting sector. The increased productivity and the high cost of labour are some of the main reasons for this phenomenon. However, the harvesting of some crops is still carried out manually. One such crop is radicchio, which ripens at various times, thus requiring selective harvesting. This paper presents the development of an innovative modular system which aims at automating the harvesting of radicchio. Each module adopts a mechanical sensor to recognize the ripening status of the plant, on the basis of the hardness/compliance of its core. The module contains a cutting system, made of pneumatically actuated blades, and a harvesting system, made of two electrically powered tape conveyors. The module is intended to be used for a single row of radicchio cultivations using a tractor to move it. In laboratory tests the module prototype was manually moved. For this reason, the prototype is equipped with a control panel for monitoring and commanding. The conceived design, technical specifications and the prototype of the module are presented in detail. In addition, performances and functional tests are discussed. Finally, the functionality of the whole system is validated.
Robots perform a variety of tasks and serve various purposes in the medical/health and social care sectors. Recently, interest has been growing in developing robotic assistants for health-related care of elderly people. These robotic systems can be used to improve the life of elderly, ensuring healthy and active ageing, thus extending the life expectancy of the elderly in their familiar home environments. In this paper, we present a low-cost telepresence robotic assistant that can assist elderly and professional caregivers in everyday activities. The robot can be operated manually or by using a shared control paradigm. The robot can also be used for interpersonal communication, thus favoring social integration. The developed robot and its navigation capabilities have been evaluated in simulations and experiments, and the evaluation results are reported.
Such a teleoperating system has been needed that enables scientists on the earth to make a moon-exploring robot carry out geological explorations on the moon by means of the same movements as their movements on the earth. Studies have been carried out on moon-exploring robot teleoperating systems to reproduce the operator’s movements. However, an existing complete-contact type of unit for measuring the movements has disadvantages in that it is large-sized, requiring skill acquirement and it is likely to restrict the operator’s free movements, making precise movements impossible. To overcome these disadvantages, we have made a study on a teleoperating system equipped with an almost non-contact type of movement measuring unit. It was verified whether our originally-developed teleoperating system proposed herein might be capable of making the robot perform fine hand movement tasks with no need for skill acquirement and no restriction on operator’s movements. The result demonstrated that the proposed teleoperating system is capable of manipulating the robot by means of operator’s movements, which reproduce those in geological explorations on the moon.
With the ageing of the workforce in the manufacturing industry, the possibility of introducing support aids such as exoskeletons to reduce the fatigue and effort of the operator has to be evaluated. An upper-limb exoskeleton with controlled impedance is expected to reduce the discomfort in the operations which require precision. Hence, arm joint stiffening is required. Real-time calculation of the exoskeleton impedance should be based on the operator’s limb impedance, evaluated through electromyographic signals. A model of the operator’s arm is necessary to identify the best control law for the exoskeleton. In this paper, preliminary considerations and a model of the elbow on which two muscles act as agonist-antagonist are presented. Numerical results are discussed, and an estimation of the performance is also proposed.
Purpose of this study was to control the suitability of Navi-Robot, a robotic system developed by our research group, to guide percutaneous needle placement under computed tomography (CT) in order to achieve lower radiation exposure and a shorter procedure. The system consists of a high precision six-degrees-of-freedom self-balanced arm, able to move both in passive and active modes, which allows the physician an accurate needle-insertion. The target and the needle entry points are selected by the surgeon on a desktop computer, that acquires DICOM images from the CT scan, and that, using software developed for this purpose, detects also the position of at least three radio opaque markers placed on the patient or on the stretcher. Once these data are obtained, a new system of reference is established based on the markers position, obtaining the coordinates of target and entry point in the new frame of reference. Going then to touch the tip of the spheres with the tip of the robot end effector in passive mode, and recording their position, the robot learns where the two points of interest are located in its frame of reference. A first test was performed on a Plexiglas board; the accuracy achieved was measured as the distance between the needle tip and the target. The results of the in vitro experiment showed that the system is able to reach the target with an accuracy of 1.2 mm.
The indoor wireless positioning system for a mobile robot employing fingerprinting technique is made in two phase, offline, i.e., collecting reference data for database, and online, i.e., matching the unknown data to those in the database. It is commonly known that the positioning accuracy is increased with the larger number of the reference locations. This has made the offline phase a tedious works, where laborious efforts are needed to construct the database. Thus, automatic database construction is desired in order to minimize the human efforts. This paper described the Signal Propagated Modified Shepard’s Method (SP-MSM) to construct the database by means of interpolating the missing wireless data using for mobile robot application. By introducing the selection probability, reference locations are identified and database is constructed. We found that over all 64 test locations, the proposed SP-MSM method outperform other interpolation method at 52% locations. In addition, the usage of low pass filter has greatly suppressed the fluctuation problem caused by unpredicted behavior of the wireless signal.
In this paper, a novel stair-climbing wheelchair is proposed. This new architecture represents an improvement over previous designs, in particular with regards to stability and safety during stair-climbing operations. The proposed mechanical architecture is hybrid: two locomotion units based on a “rotating leg” system are coupled with an idle track. This structure satisfies many design requirements: small dimensions, reduced weight, and a stable and regular climbing trajectory. In particular, the focus of this study is the design of an actuation system, the choice of suitable control logics, and the dynamic analysis of the proposed solution. The behavior of the wheelchair was tested through multibody simulation. The simulation results show that the proposed device can climb a staircase in a stable and safe manner. Certain smart dynamic features of the wheelchair were also proven. In particular, the efficacy of the cooperative actuation system and the effectiveness of the proposed control logic were analyzed. In conclusion, the simulation results demonstrate the appropriate operation of the proposed device, which will be used to design a working prototype of the stair-climbing wheelchair.
The paper discusses a study on a real-time collision avoidance algorithm for collaborative robotics applications. Within the work it is considered that a vision system detects the position of an obstacle and defines an ellipsoid which completely includes it. A similar virtual ellipsoid is considered to include the end effector, and its pose is computed based on the robot configuration. The distance between ellipsoids is input into the collision avoidance algorithm based on the method of artificial potentials. The tuning of the algorithm is described herein, along with an analysis of its performance under different operating conditions. The results of two collision avoidance tests are also presented. For the first test, the end-effector must avoid a fixed obstacle placed along a planned path. For the second test, the obstacle is moving, following a trajectory that intersects that of the end-effector. Finally, the behavior of the algorithm with increasing velocities of the end-effector and obstacle is analyzed.
The paper discusses a doppler ultrasound system for breast stiffening estimation during breast compression in mammographic screening procedures developed using automatic (robotized) mammography units. These units can be considered robots as they are automated, instruct the patient and supervise that the procedure develops correctly. The paper addresses the problem, for the robotized mammographer, to determine automatically the amount of compression of the breast to ensure proper imaging while limiting the pain for the patient to the minimum inevitable. This is one of the key issues to solve to make robotic mammographers. The physical principle used is sonoelastography in a doppler arrangement. Two algorithms have been developed able to detect vibrational displacement of breast tissue by processing the echo signals. From the displacement and phase of the vibrating tissue, the value of the elastic modulus of the breast tissue can be derived and hence its strain value in the region of interest.
Individuals with walking disability, as a result of pathological conditions or traumas, show a reduction in left ventricle end diastolic volume (EDV). In fact EDV is closely related to the blood pressure gradient between the postcaval vein and the right atrium which, during locomotion, is partially due to the calf veins squeezing caused by the rhythmic contraction of the triceps surae and the crushing of the sole of the foot’s veins. In this study, a mechatronic device was applied to nineteen healthy voluntary participants’ lower limbs to test cardiodynamic response to a mechanical intermittent stimulation. The device consisted of inflatable bladders embedded in two shells and acting on the skin of the calf and foot of both legs. The pressure trend on the legs was regulated by a portable programmable logic controller. During the compression protocol to the legs, which involved some sequences of activation-deactivation following a peristaltic compression having a caudal-rostral trend, EDV, assessed by the impedance cardiography technique, increased of about 10% up the pre-test value. The legs compression protocol imposed by means of our pneumatic device might be useful to avoid the negative consequences for cardiovascular performance caused by de-conditioning status linked to walking disabilities.
The future of productivity and growth in highly customized production environments has attracted considerable attention from numerous practitioners. Herein, we present an innovative methodology for value co-creative manufacturing with an Internet of Things (IoT)-based smart factory for mass-customized rubber products in a real-time scenario. For implementing the proposed system, a three-layer business-oriented model is developed to offer the maximum co-creative value in three-dimensional reactive-printing technology development and utilize cloud computing and cyber-physical systems in customized manufacturing and product design. A Japanese case application is examined to demonstrate the usefulness and flexibility of the proposed system.
In order to use the stable biomass resources that exist in rural areas, we have developed a small bio-methane gas engine generator that can be applied to various composition of bio-methane gas. Different from other conventional researches, we added auxiliary devices such as the surge tank, extra carburetor and ECU for our conventional gas engine generator, instead of alteration to the basic structure of the engine and the control method. Referred to the observation data such as the temperature, load and air-fuel ratio, we evaluated adaptability of auxiliary devices for various bio-methane compositions. The surge tank and extra carburetor are useful for getting more air and improve the mix for fuel-air. Along with various composition of bio-methane gas, the ECU could calculate the deviation of desired revolution and current revolution to adjust throttle valve angle by a PID controller, and realize the generator running stable.