Jaguar Land Rover plans to collaborate with robotics researchers at Harvard University, as part of an effort to develop next generation technologies to create super-human strength in the factory of the future.
The four-year research project will explore how advances in wearable soft robotics and artificial muscle technologies can be used to enhance the wellbeing of employees as well as deliver increased manufacturing capability and quality. A key part of the project will be on foundational technologies such as soft actuators, stretchable sensors, energy harvesting, and soft electronics.
Soft robotic systems incorporate active controls and soft components that can deform under pressure and return to their original shape. On the factory floor, soft robotic devices could uniquely enable close interactions of humans and automated machines. Moreover, soft robotic wearables could accelerate operator capability, while reducing physical strain and risk of repetitive strain injuries. It is anticipated that the inherent safety afforded by compliant components will allow Jaguar Land Rover to transform manufacturing to create quieter, safer, and more efficient working environments.
The collaborative research project is among the first to be initiated under a strategic research alliance between Harvard University and several Tata companies, including Tata Sons, Tata Communications, Tata Steel, and Jaguar Land Rover, launched in summer 2016.
“Our products and manufacturing plants are undergoing radical transformations. Our people are at the heart of our business and augmenting skills and capability will be key in delivering the factory of the future. Soft robotic wearables are a chance to further assist our people and improve their well-being, health and safety. The Harvard University research alliance provides Jaguar Land Rover with a fantastic opportunity to complement our in-house expertise by working closely with Harvard’s leading academics to ensure our future capability through new technologies,” said Wolfgang Stadler, Executive Director, Manufacturing.
The research at Harvard will be jointly led and directed by Conor J. Walsh, PhD, and Robert J. Wood, PhD, at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, where both are Core Faculty members.
“Our efforts in soft robotics have led to a number of enabling technologies that are widely applicable to medical and consumer devices. This new project with Jaguar Land Rover allows us to explore new soft robot technologies with an eye on industrial applications,” said Wood, who is also Charles River Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “Collaborating on research with a global automotive manufacturer is extremely exciting as it gives us perspective on real needs in a sector traditionally served by more conventional ‘rigid’ robots. We envision soft robots operating in close proximity with workers on complex assembly tasks to enable unprecedented levels of efficiency and safety.”
“Harvard’s research strengths in soft robotics, wearable systems, and biomechanics have much to contribute to economic development, manufacturing efficiency, quality control, and worker safety,” said Isaac T. Kohlberg, Harvard’s Chief Technology Development Officer and Senior Associate Provost. “We anticipate that the close collaboration fostered by our Tata research alliance will also help surface interesting new research problems and inspire the kind of transformative discovery that shapes the future.”
“We’re eager to extend our experience and expertise in soft robotics and wearable robotics into a new domain,” added Walsh, the John L. Loeb Associate Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard Paulson School. “It’s exciting that this collaboration will yield opportunities to build and test new types of devices and technologies that can be worn like an item of clothing but provide robotic assistance for workers in industrial environments carrying out a wide variety of tasks.”
At Jaguar Land Rover’s first TechFest in September 2017, Walsh will be discussing ongoing research efforts in the area of soft wearable robotics as well as highlighting how robotic systems can work intimately with humans and provide direct benefit for society.