Tiny robots may revolutionize factories

Cnn News - From Correspondent Dick Wilson

May 14, 1996

PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- Just as Henry Ford's
assembly line revolutionized the automobile industry at the
turn of 20th century, an innovation under development at a
Carnegie Mellon University lab could transform the 21st
century factory.

Researchers are studying a plan to market tiny robots to do
precise factory jobs, such as assembling small electronic
products like cameras and small computers in a factory the
size of a tabletop.

The plan transforms a traditional robot, which weighs up to
150 pounds, into a machine one-tenth of that weight and 100
times as precise.

This new technology could save manufacturers enormous
amounts of money, since it will decrease the time and
resources needed to build the physical factories while it
helps companies stay a step ahead of quickly changing

Additionally, the robotic factories could be custom built
out of pre-made parts, like building blocks, lessening the
construction time even more.

Designers hope that one day, factory owners will order the
components they need for a plant over the Internet and set
up different aspects of the assembly in cities all over the

Carnegie Mellon's Dr. Ralph Hollis explained the future
hopes for the robotic factories. "A designer of such a
factory, for assembly of these kinds of products, could be
located in one city and access robotic modules which are
built by other manufacturers in other cities," he said.

Researchers are waiting for cyberspace quirks to be worked
out before modular robots connect workers in different

The almost instantaneous interaction between work stations
and the quickly built, customized factories could give
businesses a jump on competition, since part of what slows
technology is the time it takes to build the factory.

Hollis said technology today is moving so fast it can become
outdated by the time an average factory is built. (119K AIFF
sound or 119K WAV sound)

In contrast, the robotic factories could be on-line in as
little time as one week, giving manufacturers the edge over
technological leaps, he said.

The Carnegie Mellon researchers say they hope to have the
robotic factories perfected in six to eight years.

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