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Optical Components and the Rise of the Robots

13th Dec 2019

Whilst the term artificial intelligence (AI) may conjure images of futuristic utopia and modern-day visionary technologies; the concept has actually been a societal forethought for longer than we think. For example, Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel, Frankenstein, explored robotics in an unorthodox method with Victor Frankenstein fabricating a monstrous artificial lifeform. Meanwhile, turn the clocks back considerably further to Ancient Egypt, and you’ll find robotic-inspired animated ceremonial statues. Artificial intelligence is, in fact, centuries-old, and its implementation has long been a desire of the human race.

Fast-forward to today and the omnipresence of robotics is remarkable. Not only are robots applied to large-scale industrial manufacturing chains (both assembling cars and integrated with vehicles themselves), but they’re also found much closer to home on a smaller scale; hoovering our floors, mowing our lawns and, in some cases, stocking our shelves at local supermarkets1. AI has come on leaps and bounds over the decades, but what has been the driving force behind this technologically advanced movement? The development of optics is undoubtedly a positive place to start.

As far as the AI can see 

For seamless operation, robotics requires constant clarity of vision, which means that specifying high-precision optics for such high-tech applications is crucial for optimum operation. What’s more, many of these AI-based technologies can prove extremely dangerous if functionality fails due to poor-quality components. Take autonomous driving, for instance. This driverless innovation heavily relies on a light-based remote sensing method – Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR). Without the correct optical clarity and protection, these systems can eventually deteriorate – or worse fail to detect hazards, potentially leading to life-threatening consequences for passengers, pedestrians and other road users.

As a pioneer amongst market leaders within the autonomous vehicle industry, Knight Optical has a long-standing reputation for providing world-class manufacturers with judicious optical advice for the most advantageous of innovations within the sector. As well as a wealth of experience in the field, we also offer a range of stock and custom-made components for such applications, including Aspheric LensesFront-Coated (FS) MirrorsWindowsLensesOptical Filters; plus many more. Furthermore, we also offer Optical Coatings to protect optics from the elements and improve transmission. Such customised options include Anti-Reflective (AR)Diamond-Like Carbon (DLC) as well as Hydrophobic and Oleophobic coatings.

Manufacturing: machine vs man

Naturally, robotics and manufacturing go hand-in-hand. Automated production not only improves efficiencies and is favourable from a health and safety viewpoint, but robots can operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Whether they’re employed for fast-paced automobile production, intelligent food processing systems or meticulous construction of aircraft in aerospace applications, these insomniac industrial machines have – whether we like it or not – replaced human manufacturing methods.

Again, optics and photonics play a crucial role here, particularly within automotive manufacturing. Laser-based robots have long been a vital member of the assembly line within factories; performing a range of tasks such as cutting, welding and painting. Thanks to a domino effect, the development and demands of automotive manufacturing have driven the growth of laser applications over the years resulting in the maturity we have today within the sector.

Here at Knight Optical, we have 28 years’ experience of working with leading automotive manufacturing corporations and have endorsed many evolutions within the industry. Offering up-to-the-minute optical advice and keeping abreast of innovations within the sector has positioned Knight Optical as a reliable source for on-spec, high-quality optics for such applications. Whether your system operates within the visible, ultraviolet (UV), near-infrared (NIR) or infrared (IR) wavebands, our wide-ranging portfolio, of both stock and custom-made optics, for laser engineering technologies includes IR optical filtersPrisms and Polarisers; to name but a few.

To err is human…

Although we may feel there’s been a quantum leap in the development of robotics over the years, the truth is we still have a long way to go in terms of refinement. As we push the boundaries even further and explore new avenues, more and more flaws are rising to the surface. One example is Boston Dynamics. Back in 2017, the robotics brand shared an outtake of its humanoid robot tumbling down while completing a shelf-stacking task2. Meanwhile, sports giant Adidas has recently announced that its ceased production at its high-tech robotic ‘Speedfactories’3 only three years after the factory’s first opening.

In a bid to race to the finish line, many of these companies are witnessing one thing – robots are missing the human touch. There is; however, one solution. In June this year, at the OSA Imaging and Applied Optics Congress in Munich, Dongheui Lee of the Technical University of Munich (TUM) delivered a speech on ‘Robot Learning from Human Guidance’. Talking to Optics & Photonics News (OPN), Lee said: “Imitation learning is a core and fundamental part of human learning” and “…When starting with imitation learning as an initial policy, a robot’s learning speed increases dramatically.”4

Optics & robotics: the perfect marriage

As advancements and experiments begin to take shape within the world of robotics, Knight Optical is proud to be at the forefront of optical guidance for innovators that strive to drive the future of AI and robotics. To be part of such a momentous revolution within 21st-century technology is an exhilarating prospect.

If you require direction for your specification and further information on our stock and custom-made optical components for AI and robotics applications, please do get in touch with a member of our Technical Sales Team today. Alternatively, visit