Funding announced for new ARC Training Centre at QUT for collaborative robots

Professor Jonathan Roberts at the Queensland University of Technology will lead the research.

A research team lead by the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) has received $4.9 million from the Australian Research Council (ARC) for a new training centre for collaborative robots in manufacturing.

The joint project between QUT, The University of Technology Sydney (UTS), Swinburne University of Technology, and the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing Hub (ARM Hub), will train researchers, engineers, technologists and manufacturing leaders with industry expertise needed for safety, quality assurance, production efficiency, and workforce readiness.

The centre, to be headquartered at QUT, with two other locations at UTS and Swinburne University, aims to build human and technical capability needed to underpin Australia’s global competitiveness in advanced manufacturing.

QUT professor in robotics Jonathan Roberts said the project is about opening up new opportunities for manufacturers and sharing research outcomes among the industry partners.

“There’s a whole lot of manufacturing where you’re making small runs, or there’s many Australian manufacturers who reconfigure their factory every few days or every few weeks to make a batch of a product,” he said.

“In those situations, it’s often not realistic to set up a 100 per cent automated production line. It’s more likely to be a mixture of machines and people.”

The intended outcome is to support Australian manufacturers to shift toward higher-potential markets, compete globally and attract and retain a digitally-capable workforce.

The training aims to address challenges around safety for people working in close proximity to robots in a shared environment.

Roberts said more research is needed into how robots can interpret what a human does through eye contact.

“There’s issues around how a human knows what the robot is going to do next,” he said. “It’s a fascinating problem, but it’s not an easy problem to solve.”

In the current economic climate, research into the use of collaborative robots addresses issues such as whether or not robots can increase business for manufacturers, and if manufacturers can make products using robots and people that are not currently possible.

“It’s the idea of re-shoring manufacturing so we can be more competitive if we use people and robots together,” Roberts said.

The centre is due to open in early 2021.