Fully functional human robots, such as those being developed by Boston Dynamics, need numerous sensors to simulate a variety of human and beyond human capabilities. For the human part, the sensors provide the ability to see, hear, touch and move. In general, industrial robots employ sensors for a variety of activities. Some sensors provide environmental feedback regarding the surroundings and the terrain.
Vision and proximity sensors can be similar to the sensor types required for self-driving vehicles including camera, infrared, sonar, ultrasound, radar and LiDAR. In some instances, more than one camera can be used, especially for stereo vision. The combination of these sensors allows the robot to determine the size, identify an object and determine its distance.
RFID sensing can provide identification codes and allow an authorized robot to acquire other information.
Force or tactile sensing provides the ability for the robot to pick up objects of different types without crushing or dropping them or activate external touch controlled switches. Torque sensors enable the ability to measure and control rotational forces.
Microphones (acoustical sensors) help the robot receive voice commands and identify unusual sounds in a familiar environment. With the addition of piezoelectric sensors, vibration caused noise can be identified and eliminated to avoid misinterpreting voice commands. Advanced algorithms can even allow the robot to interpret the emotions of the speaker.
Chemical and light sensors enable the robot to evaluate, adjust and detect problems with its environment. Temperature sensing can be used to determine its environment and avoid potentially harmful heat sources and be part of the robot’s self-diagnostics as well.
In addition to established industrial applications in material handling and specialized process such as welding, general purpose applications in assembly line provide numerous opportunities for robots to improve line speed and achieve higher quality control.
One report, predicts that the global industrial robot sensors market will grow steadily at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of about 8% by 2021. For a broad range of robotic sensing applications, including consumer and automotive, another report specifically says vision systems alone will be a market of $5.7 billion by 2027 and force sensing will reach over $6.9 billion.