Robot arms on the move

A mobile robot arm, a mobile manipulator, was experimented in spring 2023 for cleaning walls. The task was still too ambitious for the robot but in factories and laboratories an autonomous robot arm could already be a success.

One application that has been of interest to robot developers is an autonomously moving robot arm or mobile manipulator or mobile cobots. If the arm familiar from factories could be made to move autonomously or steered, the robot could carry out different kinds of tasks either on behalf of humans or helping them.

In spring 2023, an autonomous robot arm was tested for cleaning unwanted graffiti from city walls. The robot experiment was part of the AutoMod project.

– We had an idea of a cleaning robot that cleans unwanted graffiti or marks from walls. The robot was designed as a modular general-purpose machine, meaning that you could mount something else than a cleaning robot on the platform, says Teemu Kytömäki, CTO of Dimalog Oy that developed the robot.

From a robot arm into a wall cleaner

Dimalog manufactures industrial robotics primarily by combining readymade components and programming the robots itself.

– We have noticed that recently, robots and automation have started to move from factories to the public sector and closer to the average Joe. It was inspiring to try to create an urban robot.

We chose a cleaning robot as the example case because wall cleaning is repetitive work in which substances harmful to humans are often used. On the outside, the task was perfect to be automated.

However, we discovered during trials that the task was complex. There are so many variables related to just the cleaning from washing methods to detergents and different wall materials. In addition to that, the robot had to be programmed to move in an urban area.

– Even though we finished the robot prototype and made it functional, it couldn’t be used as such in an urban environment, says Kytömäki.

Piloting gives ideas for development

Despite all this, Dimalog gained plenty of useful experience from the AutoMod pilot in combining the robotic arm with mobile robotics.

– Mobile manipulators are still few and far between but there is a lot demand for them, Kytömäki says.

Next, Dimalog will return back to industrial robotics but the lessons learned won’t fade:

– Currently, we have a few similar ongoing projects combining mobile robots with robotic arms for the industry and laboratories.

Dimalog was one of the two companies selected from the second innovation competition of the AutoMod project. The companies received support from the project for developing their ideas.

Robot pilots: a cleaning robotic hand!