Sep. 7, 2020C3 eMotion intelligent actuator units
"Human collaborative robots" are the latest attention-getting advance in the world of industrial robots. These are "robots that cooperate with humans" — assisting people by working alongside them instead of being isolated from their human coworkers as in the past. The C3 eMotion was developed to allow any engineer to create such a human collaborative robot easily, without specialized knowledge.
A future in which a robot will work alongside you is coming
"The most distinctive feature of C3 eMotion is Nikon's proprietary arrangement in which two components for measuring motor rotation angles, known as encoders, are built in. Safety is ensured because this enables the detection of contact from the angle differences of motor rotations. It is also possible for human users to directly teach movements to a robot."
In addition to these encoders, motors, speed reducers, motor drivers and brakes are all compactly built in. In other words, the muscles that move the robot, the sensory organs that detect contact and the brain that remembers movements are designed as a comprehensive set. This means that engineers who do not possess the specialized knowhow required to design robots will be able to easily develop a safe and high-performance robot. The three Cs of the C3 name represent Connect, Control and Cooperate — everything needed for the future of robots is included.
"Up to now, when I wanted to develop a robot, I had to combine components from different sources, such as company A for actuators, company B for encoders, and company C for brakes, each requiring specialized knowledge. However, with C3 eMotion, anyone can develop a robot that is perfect for their business with only basic knowledge."
How do we convey such a dreamlike world to audiences?
This is where "Design" comes in.
Realizing the possibilities of robotics
A conventional actuator generally features bare, exposed metal, and its shape is designed considering functional purposes only. This is a natural way of making it because it is incorporated within the robot and cannot be seen from the outside.
"However, C3 eMotion actuators incorporate unprecedented innovation. I thought it would be a waste if they did not have an attractive appearance to convey the idea of such innovation. So, the unit takes a simple cylindrical form that anyone can use easily.
Also, utilizing modeling expression such as the accuracy and reliability used in camera design, clearly distinguishes it from its competitors at a glance."
As well as this, in order to show how it was actually incorporated into a robot, an original articulated robot design was employed.
"At first, we were thinking about a mechanical, sharp and advanced design because that would make a strong impact at an exhibition. However, as we came to understand the concept better, we started to think that there was something more important to express than the function and performance of the actuator itself."
It's the concept of a robot working naturally next to a human, which will be realized by C3 eMotion. Therefore, we changed the direction to a design that attracts people by expressing softness and friendliness.
"So we suggested a detachable actuator cover, and made the arm's shape organic and soft by imitating the bones of living creatures. Of course, this might weaken its impact at an exhibition. Even so, we thought it was more important to give people the excitement of 'something new has started', instead of just getting attention."
Stimulating the audience's imagination
The designs of our brochures and exhibition booths are changing.
"In a typical actuator brochure, we have been providing specifications information and explain how good the function is. However, C3 eMotion is an unprecedented actuator that allows anyone to develop robots freely without any specialized knowledge. So the design needs to convey that essence."
What we did first was to have a hearing with the Digital Solution Business that developed C3 eMotion — the department that has been steadfastly pursuing performance as a component to be incorporated in industrial machines. There had previously been few opportunities to collaborate in the area of design. So everything had to start from understanding the passions of development staff members and clarifying the essence of the product.
"When we were talking about what we wanted to communicate through the brochure and exhibition booth, functions and specifications such as safety, high performance and high accuracy were at the center of communication at first. As we considered the deepened "experiences" that can be achieved and inspired by the technology, words like 'advanced', 'fun', 'smart', and even 'childhood wonder' and 'a science fiction world' came into play. If I could deliver this excitement that I'd found in the manufacturer, Nikon, I thought I could bring out more free ideas from the audience along the lines of 'Can you do this?' or 'If I were you, I would do it this way'."
The brochure that initially focused on the actuators' performance was changed to project a much friendlier look featuring many illustrations. For the exhibition booth, we deleted the explanation panels which were previously commonplace and transformed the entire booth into an unprecedented design space.
"I joined this project because I was requested to draw illustrations to be placed in brochures. But from there, by carefully picking up on developers' passions, the design range was extended beyond illustrations to arrive at a comprehensive world view"
Developers talk about C3 eMotion design
Pride in Nikon product manufacturing
Digital Solutions Business Unit
"Collaborating with the Design Department for the first time, I felt a great sense of pride that I am actually manufacturing Nikon products. I also developed a stronger attachment to the completed actuators. The comprehensive world view conveyed from the product, brochure, booth and design made C3 eMotion unique."
Taking the next steps with performance and design
Digital Solutions Business Unit
"At first, I thought that design was created through the sensibilities of the designers, but in reality, it all starts with knowing the functions of the product and the world view it's aimed at. I have now realized that an essence of design is a method of delivering the 'inside' of the product, not merely the exterior. Pursuit of both performance and better communication is something I would like to keep reaching for."
The power of design was enormous
Digital Solutions Business Unit
"Every time I heard someone at the exhibition saying, "Can I touch it?" or "Nikon's robot is really attractive", I experienced a different kind of joy than that I usually felt when somebody complimented a product's performance. I had believed that design and specifications were the most important aspects of an industrial robot. However, this process really did teach me the power of design."
Mr. Hoshi: Nikon's design is characterized by serious and straightforward design that focuses on human beings, but it also has one aspect that has always stimulated the creativity of others.
I would be so happy if this actuator stimulates robot developers to feel, "I want to develop something like it.
Nikon's entry into the robot industry is just beginning. I would like to create a new image of Nikon as a "robot component manufacturer" in addition to it being an "optical instrument manufacturer".
Mr. Ashikawa: I have a friend who pets a robot vacuum cleaner, calling it "Kyu-chan". Its cute nickname comes from the Japanese word for the sound of suction power. Even for industrial robots, I think such attachment and emotional engagement will help the business to accelerate into new fields.
I would like to continue advancing Nikon's robotics achievements by creating designs that stimulate as many people as possible and help them feel "Yes, I can do this."