New robotics image processing tools help automate aircraft surface preparation

Researchers at the Southwest Research Institute will be introducing new automation technology that will enable automation of aircraft surface preparation. The tools basically allow industrial robots to visually classify work and autonomously perform tasks.

SwRI’s Automate Booth (No. 1707) will feature an interactive demonstration of robots that autonomously sand and prepare surfaces on aircraft and other machinery. The technology can be applied to grinding, painting, polishing, cleaning, welding, sealing and other industrial processes.

The system uses SwRI-developed machine learning algorithms and classification software that work in conjunction with open-source tools such as Scan-N-PlanTM and ROS 2, the latest version of the open-source robot operation system. Traditional robot programming can be slow and tedious, requiring an expert in the loop with knowledge of computer aided design (CAD).

Scan-N-Plan, a ROS-Industrial technology, uses machine vision to scan parts, creating 3D mesh data that robots use to plan tool paths and process trajectories while performing real-time process monitoring. SwRI works closely with the ROS-I project to maintain its software repository and expand open-source automation solutions.

The solution includes custom machine vision algorithms that enable robots to apply various media with varying pressure based on the amount of surface work needed. Feature-based processing is also enabled through additions that leverage semantic segmentation approaches to apply the right tool to the right feature, cutting versus sanding for instance.

This project demonstrates the advanced features of ROS 2 while providing an initial framework for additional application build-out. It is also an open-source example for teaching and training those interested in developing advanced solutions that leverage ROS.

At Automate, SwRI will also share a new industrial reconstruction framework that creates high-fidelity mesh maps of objects. An onboard camera overlays the map to create a colorized mesh to facilitate advanced processing. The combination of 2D, 3D and color classification drives more intelligent processing. This new capability will be made available via the ROS-Industrial open-source program.

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