Programming a robot made child’s play

Article of 29 September 2017 

BionicCobot Software

When it comes to programming, most of us probably think about complicated lines of code with lots of abbreviations, brackets and other symbols. Programming a robot can also be very easy, however, as is shown by the software that Festo developed for its pneumatic lightweight robot, the BionicCobot.

The BionicCobot is operated intuitively by means of a graphic user interface developed in-house. Users have a choice of various preprogrammed actions, such as ‘Grip’, ‘Save point’ or ‘Move’, without having to enter these themselves in a complex programming language. Users are also spared from making elaborate settings in the first step, like those used to set the parameters. The software automatically selects standard values for the parameters (variable values, which have to be transferred to the software so that it can solve the required tasks, for example the speed at which the robot arm moves), which can be modified by the operator, however.

Actions can be easily put together in a sequence

The robot’s functions are depicted in the software with easy-to-understand symbols. In this way, the operator can select the required actions on a tablet using ‘drag and drop’ to make a kind of timeline and put them into any sequence – just like with a video editing program. Even repetitions of certain motion sequences or more complex if-then conditions can be simply put together and saved. The operator can then see, either virtually in the simulation on the tablet or in the actual movement, how the BionicCobot executes these motion sequences, immediately rectify any errors in the procedure or adjust individual parameters such as the speed.

Programming through teaching

Another way of programming is teaching: in this case, the operator switches the BionicCobot to handheld mode (balancer mode). The operator can thereby move the cobot freely and use the control knobs on the robot to save certain positions and sequences. If the operator needs very precise points, which they are unable to move accurately enough with the robot arm manually, then these fine adjustments can be made using a directional pad on the tablet.

In handheld mode the BionicCobot can be freely moved and control knobs on the robot can be used to save certain points and sequences.
In handheld mode the BionicCobot can be freely moved and control knobs on the robot can be used to save certain points and sequences.

If an expert wants to program the robot, they can also switch to a classic programming mode and write the required actions as code.

Interface to the robotics server

The software’s graphic user interface has an interface to the Robot Operating System (ROS). This is where the mathematics takes place: by means of the saved points, the robots movement path is calculated and possible collisions are checked. The ROS open source platform in turn has an interface to the Festo Motion Terminal, via which the robot’s kinematics are controlled using complex control technology.

You can see the software and the robot in action in the video: