Skip to main content

In the future, welding robots could be controlled by operators’ thoughts

Welding has always been a physical, hands-on job — but that may be about to change. That’s because researchers from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign have developed a new mind-control system that makes it possible for someone to control a welding robot by transmitting mental instructions via an electroencephalography (EEG) cap. While robot welders are already used in industry, this innovation could help make the process more efficient, in addition to keeping human workers at a safe distance from the potentially deadly machines they work with.

“Welding is a high-skilled task,” Thenkurussi Kesavadas, professor of Industrial & Enterprise Systems Engineering, told Digital Trends. “A skilled welder can identify the exact joints that require welding based on drawings of the part. But when robots are used to weld, programming requires additional skill set and time. Our research is focused on automating robotic welding by using human knowledge about welding and computer vision to carry out automation.”

This human knowledge is gathered using the aforementioned EEG caps. As the user watches images on a computer screen of different joints that can potentially be welded, the brain-computer interface (BCI) recognizes intent, based on how the operator responds to the most appropriate option.

“At the current time, this is a tech demo,” Kesavadas said. “We are using BCI and A.I.-based computer vision to automatically weld in a simulated environment. Our plan is to try this at an industrial setting. The problem it will solve is that robotic welding of small batch sizes are not economical. In high-volume welding, the time required for programming is negligible compared to [the] cost of welding millions of parts. But welding using robots is generally not economical for a small number of parts since programming takes too much time. This technology is looking at innovative ways to use human skill to create a low-cost way of introducing robotics to welding.”

Going forward, the team will be exploring more advanced welding techniques, including a wider range of 3D geometries. “We will also look at integrating more modalities of input to help the operator,” Kesavadas said. “We are couple of years away from commercialization.”

Editors' Recommendations

Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
Microsoft’s new quantum chip could help control thousands of qubits
IBM quantum computing

Microsoft doesn’t just make Windows and Surface tablets -- it’s also doing some pretty interesting work with quantum computers. And, at least according to the Redmond, Washington-based company, it’s just made a notable advance in this domain.

Working with researchers from the University of Sydney in Australia, the Microsoft investigators say they have found a way to control thousands of qubits, the basic units of quantum information that are equivalent to binary bits in a classical computer, at extremely low temperatures.

Read more
Future armies could use teams of drones and robots to storm buildings
Ghost robotics

AI Empowered Robots Perform Indoor Surveillance

Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, an Israeli defense firm that dates back to the 1940s, has shown off a new artificial intelligence-powered system that lets drones and robots enter buildings together to scan the insides in order to create maps.

Read more
Holotron is a robotic exosuit that could transform the way we use VR
holotron robot exosuit 1

Life-like VR and Robot Teleoperation - Holotron Demo, 1 min, no narration

There was once a time, in the early 1990s to be precise, when the biggest impediment to achieving high-end virtual reality was the fact that the images were too fuzzy and slow-moving. Today, we’ve moved way beyond these early teething challenges. With impressive visuals and three-dimensional sound, VR has no problem creating a compellingly immersive experience -- from an audio-visual perspective, at least.

Read more