NSK Develops Direct Drive Wheel Unit for Autonomous and Collaborative Robots

Ideal for robots in quiet environments

NSK Ltd. (NSK; Headquarters: Tokyo, Japan; President & CEO: Toshihiro Uchiyama) has developed a direct drive wheel unit ideal for collaborative robots, autonomous service robots, and power-assist push carts.

The direct drive unit is much quieter than conventional systems, facilitating use in public spaces and work environments without disturbing people in the area.

NSK will be exhibiting working models at International Robot Exhibition 2019 (iREX 2019), to be held at Tokyo Big Site from December 18-21, 2019. NSK is exhibiting the product as a proposal to wheeled robot makers, and units can be provided for trial implementation and verification testing by customers.


Development Background

In recent years, autonomous guided vehicles (AGV) have been adopted as an effective conveyance solution in industrial/manufacturing settings. Manufacturing plants are typically noisier than public spaces, so the noise made by AGV isn’t subject to strict limitations, and they can be quite noisy in practice.

At the same time, societal changes such as aging populations (smaller workforces), the rise of e-commerce (mega warehouses), and a renewed focus on employee safety (prohibition of heavy lifting), have resulted in increasing demand for automation and collaborative robots.

Outside the plant setting, at commercial businesses and public facilities, robots must operate quietly to avoid impeding conversations and disturbing people passing through the area.

Accordingly, NSK moved to develop a direct drive motor wheel unit, which can operate much more quietly than conventional drive units thanks to its gearless structure. The direct drive wheel unit is designed to be safe around people and is ideal for use in service robots, power-assist push carts, and other collaborative robot applications.

Features

  • Direct drive motor uses a gearless design, eliminating significant operating noise that typically comes from the gearbox.
  • Backdriveability enables push/pull manual operation. Seamless switching between autonomous and collaborative work.
  • Dedicated driver drives two wheel units at the same time, and can be controlled easily with simple signals.
  • Dedicated driver is equipped with sensors measuring wheel rotation, acceleration, tilt, and more. Sensor signal can be output for use by onboard PC in autonomous robots.