Robotic devices no longer need to be caged up away from workers at a job site. A new age of collaborative robotics, or cobots, promises a closer human interaction than ever before. This has the potential to make manual work less tedious and exhausting. There is a similar trend in healthcare, marked by a steady rise in rehabilitation and assistive robotics. For many, exoskeletons and wearable robots also fall under cobots.
This close proximity of robotics to people, however, raises many new safety questions and concerns. A European collaboration COVR – with the Danish Technological Institute, National Research Council of Italy, Fraunhofer IFF in Germany, CEA in France, and Roessingh Research & Development in the Netherlands – have published a digital online toolbox, which provides quick and free access to help with the different stages of evaluation and implementation.
The COVR Toolkit is located at Safearoundrobots.com. While not exclusive, it does contain dedicated sections to exoskeletons. At publication, the Toolkit houses:
- Three certification case studies:
- ALDAK project by Gogoa (which ExR covered last year: ATEX Certification Of Active Exoskeletons: GOGOA Mobility Robots and CEIT Start the European ALDAK Project Under COVR)
- Risk assessment approach for a robotic gait trainer
- System description of a robotic gait trainer based on IEC 80601-2-78
- links to five directives that apply to exo technology (which can be further refined based on domain and application)
- five relevant to exoskeletons test protocols:
- rotation beyond single-axis rotation pre-set limits
- limiting physical interaction energy
- proper hinge joint alignment
- safety-related sensor systems
- torque limitations
For the moment, the COVR Toolkit is focused on EU standards and best practices. The Toolkit also includes information on suggested test equipment, risk assessment, and publications. All the European partners in COVR have been working since 2018 to make the road to safer robots shorter and more manageable. Safearoundrobots.com is meant to help you design, develop and set up safe cobots within production areas, healthcare, logistics, and agriculture.
“The COVR Toolkit has given me an understanding of robot safety and how best to implement a safe cobot. It has given me expertise that I have not found anywhere else in the cobot environment”, says Kim Gungaard, Automation Supporter at the global bioscience company Chr. Hansen and user of the Toolkit.
“The toolkit can help, regardless of your level of knowledge. For the beginner, it provides advice on safe robot programming and how to do risk assessment, while the expert will be able to find knowledge regarding validation protocols, the latest publications on safety and an overview of advanced measuring equipment, which can be used to test your robot’s safety”, says Aske Bach Lassen, project coordinator of COVR at DTI (Danish Technological Institute).
“The cobot industry has asked for deeper guidance and practical examples for over a decade. With the help provided by safearoundrobots.com I hope to see more collaborative robots installed, by means of efficient and thorough risk assessment”, says Lasse Kieffer, chairman at the National Robot Standardization Committee S-850. He continues: “It can be difficult to identify which directives and standards are relevant for a specific collaborative robot application. With a few simple clicks, this tool guides you to the relevant documents.”
What seems to be missing from the COVR Toolkit is how to handle change management when implementing an exoskeleton or a collaborative robot. Should buyers and implementers of exo technology be expected to run their own safety and validation studies? The COVR Toolkit can be immensely valuable for exoskeleton developers targeting the EU market, or for independent labs seeking test certification. It should be used more cautiously by buyers and adopters, or else they will be exhausted from evaluations by the time they have to implement the new devices.
What is COVR?
COVR is a European collaboration led by the Danish Technological Institute. The collaboration focuses on the validation of robot safety – how to test, measure, and document that your robot solution meets existing requirements from directives, regulations, and standards. COVR’s mission is to increase the safety of all robots that share space with humans by applying skills-based testing across robotic domains. The COVR consortium consists of the Danish Technological Institute (DTI), the Italian National Research Council (CNR), the German Fraunhofer IFF, the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), and Roessingh Research and Development from Enschede, the Netherlands. The project is funded by the EU.