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Transformative Aeronautics Concepts Program

Effective Human-Robot Teaming to Advance Aviation Manufacturing

Completed Technology Project

Project Description

The research team’s first prototype of its shared human-robot collaboration platform. An operator controls the arm to perform a representative task with assistance from a heads-up display.

This project aims to transform manufacturing processes in commercial aviation that have traditionally been resistant to automation. These manual processes have become significant bottlenecks in an increasingly efficient and automated production pipeline, while posing significant risk to the health and safety of human workers. This project team aims to address the challenge of assisting skilled aviation workers in these tasks by developing technologies that augment and complement human capabilities rather than attempting to entirely automate them. Specifically, the project will improve the efficiency and ergonomics of these manual processes through the process-centered development of a flexible human-robot collaboration platform that will provide skilled aviation technicians with intelligent assistance. The project team will develop this platform and its applications across a range of manufacturing processes that are central and critical to the aerospace industry, focusing on for processes for development and testing: (1) riveting, (2) hand layup, (3) sanding, and (4) the installation of interior furnishings.

The research activities will center around five key challenges. First, the research team will develop a shared human-robot collaboration platform that will integrate core capabilities for task assistance and that will serve as the basis for development to address the other research challenges. The remaining technical challenges will involve extending the shared platform with specific capabilities to support each of the four manufacturing processes in order to significantly improve process efficiency and worker ergonomics and its assessment in the laboratory and demonstration at Boeing facilities for technology transfer. Specifically, addressing each of these challenges will involve (1) modeling the manufacturing process, such as hand layup, (2) developing human-robot task plans that optimize efficiency and ergonomics, (3) developing specific capabilities for the collaborative robot platform, (4) carrying out laboratory assessments of the solutions, and (5) working with Boeing engineers to transfer research products into manufacturing environments.

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Anticipated Benefits

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Primary U.S. Work Locations and Key Partners

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