It is one of those single-arm, orange-colored robots normally used to punch and weld sheet metal components for cars in large manufacturing halls. One such industrial robot can also be found in the laboratories of the Fraunhofer Technology Development Group TEG. However, the researchers there have given it much more human qualities. This robot arm can almost perfectly imitate the natural walking movements of a human being, and so, mounted on a treadmill, it walks and walks and walks. The reason for this continuous exertion is a prosthetic foot which is attached to the machine and is being put through its paces. The TEG researchers have succeeded in developing a 3-D robot test rig that is capable of emulating a variety of different movements. Thanks to this robot, it is now possible to test various components and materials under realistic conditions for the first time. Be it to test the load capacity of a foot prosthesis or even to design new ski bindings or running shoes – the robot is able to exert three-dimensional forces, unlike conventional testing devices, and can turn, push or pull in any direction. "Thanks to bio-mechanical analyses, we understand the rolling movements of the foot," explains TEG project manager Andreas Reindl. "We use this know-how to program the robot. As a result, we can teach it all kinds of movements, just as the customer pleases. We do this by layering individual motion sequences on top of each other." The robot can then, for instance, exert a downward pressure while at the same time performing a forward pulling motion. Once the robot has learnt to 'walk', the engineers can carry out extensive tests on the prosthesis or running shoe. A set of pressure measuring plates integrated in the treadmill can determine, for instance, how much load pressure the shoe's cushioning material can withstand. Video recordings and optical recognition systems also help to establish which material is best to ensure that the foot prosthesis is flexible enough to roll properly, but also firm enough to provide sufficient stability. This sophisticated robot test rig enables the engineers to test all kinds of materials. It could also be used for fatigue tests on fitness machines or various types of floor coverings. Manufacturers can be as inventive as they like in terms of the test requirements, as there is no limit to what the system can do.
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