Drives & Controls Magazine September 2023

n TECHNOLOGY p A US company, Rare Earth Salts Separation and Refining, has developed a “breakthrough” technology for producing rare-earth materials including terbium, yttrium, cerium, europium and lanthanum from the recycled feedstock. It says this represents the first US supply chain for heavy rare-earth oxides used in motors and other applications. It will thus create a resilient domestic supply chain for these strategic components, reducing the reliance on China as the main source of rare-earth materials. p The CC-Link Partner Organisation has approved a third Ethernet interface for twisted-pair cables for CC-Link IE TSN communications, in addition to the existing RJ-45 and M12 X-coded options. The new ix Industrial Type A Gbit interface is 70% smaller than RJ-45 and can transmit Ethernet signals at 10Gbit/s. The 10-pin rectangular interface complies with IEC 61076-3-124. One supplier of the new interface is Harting which is offering IP20 and IP65 protected versions with 360-degree shielding and tool-less locking. p Mitsubishi Electric has announced a silicon carbide (SiC) power semiconductor module for industrial applications that it says will result in smaller, more efficient and lighter equipment. The FMF600DXE-34BN module has a current rating of 600A and a voltage rating of 1.7kV. It reduces internal inductance by 47% compared to Mitsubishi’s earlier silicon-based 1.7kV/600A NX-type IGBT modules. p Toshiba Electronic Devices & Storage has developed what it says is the first 2.2kV dual silicon carbide Mosfet module for industrial equipment, including motor controls. The module has a 250A drain current rating and is suitable for 1.5kV DC applications. It offers low conduction losses and turn-on and turn-off switching losses that are claimed to be 90% lower than for silicon IGBTs. TECHNOLOGY BRIEFS UK dual-arm robot is sensitive enough to handle a crisp UK RESEARCHERS HAVE developed a dual-arm robot system that is so sensitive that it can safely handle fragile items such as individual potato crisps. The AI-guided bi-touch system, devised by scientists at the University of Bristol, is claimed to display a tactile sensitivity approaching that of humans. The researchers believe it could revolutionise delicate applications such as picking and handling fruit, and could help to create a sense of touch in artificial limbs. The technology uses an AI (artificial intelligence) agent to interpret its environment through tactile feedback, and then control the robots’ behaviour to provide precise sensing and gentle object manipulation. “With our bi-touch system, we can easily train AI agents in a virtual world within a couple of hours to achieve bi-manual tasks that are tailored towards the touch,” explains Yijiong Lin from the University’s Faculty of Engineering. “And more importantly, we can directly apply these agents from the virtual world to the real world without further training. The tactile bi-manual agent can solve tasks even under unexpected perturbations and manipulate delicate objects in a gentle way.” The researchers, from the University’s Robotics Laboratory, believe that manual manipulation with tactile feedback will be a key to humanlevel robot dexterity. Using twin robot arms in this way has not been explored widely, partly because of the limited availability of suitable hardware, and partly because of the complexity of designing effective controllers for such tasks. The Bristol team created a simulation containing two robot arms with tactile sensors. They then designed a mechanism that encouraged the robot agents to learn to perform the bi-manual tasks, and developed a real-world dual-arm robot system with tactile capabilities. The robot learns its skills through deep reinforcement learning (Deep-RL), which teaches robots to do things by letting them learn from trial and error – similar to training a dog with rewards and punishments. To manipulate objects, the robot learns to make decisions by attempting various behaviours to achieve tasks such as lifting objects up without dropping or breaking them. If it fails, it learns what not to do. If it succeeds, it gets a reward. With time, it figures out the best ways to grab things. The Bristol researchers’ dual-arm robot has safely held and lifted items as fragile as single Pringles crisps. “Our bi-touch system showcases a promising approach with affordable software and hardware for learning bi-manual behaviours with touch in simulation, which can be directly applied to the real world,” says Professor Nathan Lepora, who has co-authored a report on the development with Yijiong Lin. “Our tactile dual-arm robot simulation allows further research on more different tasks as the code will be open-source, which is ideal for developing other downstream tasks.” “Our bi-touch system allows a tactile dual-arm robot to learn purely from simulation, and to achieve various manipulation tasks in a gentle way in the real world,” adds Lin. “And now we can easily train AI agents in a virtual world within a couple of hours to achieve bi-manual tasks that are tailored towards touch.” 4-6 June 2024 NEC Birmingham Part of: ACCELERATE YOUR ENQUIRY GROWTH IN 2024 TECHNOLOGY n Bristol University’s dual-arm robot holding a crisp Image: Yijiong Lin