Programming a robot is child’s play

The intuitive software of the BionicCobot

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

The BionicCobot is operated intuitively via a graphic user interface developed in-house. Users have a choice of different 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 as a first step, like those used to set the parameters. The software automatically selects standard values for the parameters (variable values that 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 the operator can still change.

Actions can easily be joined together.

The robot’s functions are represented in the software with easy-to-understand symbols. This allows the operator to select the required actions on a tablet by dragging and dropping, create 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 easily created 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 programming option is teaching. In this case, the operator switches the BionicCobot to handheld mode (balancer mode). This enables the operator to move the cobot freely and use the control knobs on the robot to save certain positions and sequences. For very precise points, which cannot be approached accurately enough with the robot arm in manual mode, these precision adjustments can be made using a D-pad on the tablet. 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 robot server

The software’s graphic user interface has an interface to the Robot Operating System (ROS). That is where the mathematics happen. Using the saved points, the robot's motion path is calculated and possible collisions are checked. The open source platform ROS in turn has an interface to the Festo Motion Terminal, via which the robot’s kinematics are controlled using complex control technology.