Robots unloading float glass on an assembly line.

Advanced robotics manufacturing aims to move beyond the isolated assembly line, enabling robots to work in tandem and with people to manipulate complex parts. (Wikimedia photo by ICAPlants)

Berkeley a regional center in new robotics manufacturing consortium

On January 13, the Department of Defense announced a new $253 million Advanced Robotics Manufacturing (ARM) Innovation Hub, with Berkeley Engineering as a key partner in this national consortium.

The ARM consortium, headquartered in Pittsburgh with founding academic and industrial partners in 31 states, is organizing domestic capabilities in robotics technology to amplify U.S. manufacturing. The Berkeley team, led by professor of mechanical engineering Tarek Zohdi, brings strengths in advanced manufacturing, computational mechanics, robotics and control to the consortium’s research and technology innovation agenda.

Joining Zohdi are team members Ruzena Bajcsy (EECS), Anca Dragan (EECS), Ken Goldberg (IEOR and EECS), Roberto Horowitz (ME), Masayoshi Tomizuka (ME), Shankar Sastry (EECS, ME and BioE) and Paul Wright (ME).

Robotics technology is already common in manufacturing, but today’s robots are expensive, single-purpose and challenging to reprogram. Typically, they require isolation from humans for safety. More and more, robotics are necessary to achieve the level of precision needed for defense and other industrial manufacturing, but the capital cost and complexity of use often limit small to mid-size manufacturers from making use of the technology.

To create and deploy next-generation robotic technology, ARM is integrating diverse research and industry practices across many disciplines – from sensor technologies, artificial intelligence and materials science to human and machine behavior modeling – to realize the promise of a robust manufacturing innovation ecosystem.

Technologies ripe for transformation range from robot control (learning, adaptation and repurposing) and dexterous manipulation to autonomous navigation and mobility.

“U.S. industries stand to make the greatest gains by understanding and adopting the latest tools and processes in robotically enabled systems,” said Zohdi. “We want to develop the laboratory and computational tools that allow manufacturers to produce superior products, even the most complex, at lower operational costs.”

Of particular interest at Berkeley is hybrid robotics – building one robotic system that can manipulate complex parts and combine such disparate techniques as chemical vapor deposition, laser processing and 3-D printing. Other interests include co-robotics – enabling robots to work in tandem with people – and assessing the environmental and resource issues associated with robotics manufacturing technology. Experimentation, modeling and simulation will play a key role in all this work.

The ARM consortium – comprising state and local governments, industry, universities, community colleges and nonprofit organizations from across the country – contributed $173 million, to be combined with $80 million in federal funding. This substantial funding partnership reflects the importance of robotics to U.S. economic competitiveness and workforce development.

ARM is the newest partner in Manufacturing USA, the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation. The network’s aim is to help industry reduce the risks and costs of production scale-up and commercialization so that companies can adopt new technologies, accelerate technology transfer to the marketplace and facilitate innovation across supply chains.


Mechanical Engineering press release: DoD Announces Award of New Advanced Robotics Manufacturing (ARM) Innovation Hub

For more information, contact Tarek Zohdi at zohdi@berkeley.edu.