July 25, 2019      

Tokyo-based TechMagic K.K. and Fujimak Corporation have released videos showing a robotic prototype that automates the task of picking and sorting clean dishes coming out of a conveyor washer.

The demonstration was on display at the recent FOOMA Japan 2019 International Food Industry exhibition. During the four-day event, the robot sorted more than 2,000 dishes, TechMagic said.

The robot aims to address a labor shortage in dishwashing workers, especially in areas where a large volume of dishes are required to be cleaned. “We are working on the automation of the dishwashing process to reduce the burden on workers and improve productivity,” the company said in a statement. “We are developing a product that automates the dish sorting process by combining a conveyor washer and a robot arm (patent pending).”

TechMagic clean dish robot sorter picker

TechMagic robot can pick and sort clean dishes from a conveyor washer. Image: TechMagic

TechMagic said the dishwasher can clean different kinds of dishes at the same time, and can be placed on the conveyor belt in non-uniform ways. The robot can then recognize the type and position of each approaching dish. It tracks this via a marker attached to the bottom of the dish with multiple cameras, recognizing the type, position, and angle of the dish. “The dishes are individually tracked until they are picked up, so it’s possible to get an accurate position and orientation,” the company said. “We are also collecting data for machine learning, such that this can be performed without markers in the future.”

TechMagic added they can calculate the industrial robot arm trajectory in real time, so there is no need to slow down or stop the conveyor belt. In addition, the robot can pick up and sort dishes quickly without damaging the dishes. “In order to perform 6D dish-sorting, it is necessary to calculate the optimal angle for grabbing the object,” the company added. “Because the robot arm is physically limited in the ways it can bend, it was necessary to calculate the optimal picking angle from all of the possible postures that the robot arm could assume.

The companies said they are developing the product with the goal of attaching it to Meiko’s conveyor washer, and additional demonstrations and testing will continue towards the path to commercialization.