In our search for innovative uses of load cells, we come across some great ideas to solve problems that, frankly, very few of us actually have!
Tidy up your toys
The Tidy Dog toy box potentially solved a problem that almost any dog owner can relate to. Dogs, like toddlers, are terrific at taking toys out of their box or basket, and usually terrible at putting them back again without some serious training (and incentive). The Tidy Dog aimed to create a conditioned response by dispensing a treat every time the dog drops a toy, even a very light one, into the box. The dropped toy was detected by two load cells at the bottom of the bin part of the box.
Now, it wouldn’t take the average mutt long to figure out that if they stand in the box, a treat will be dispensed. Only it won’t be. The load cells in the base detected small vibrations when a dog stood in the bin, and would not trigger a treat drop until those vibrations had stabilised. If the dog tried to take a toy out and repeatedly put it back in again, the system locked treats inside for 30 seconds. Equally, the system could be turned on or off as required.
First crowd-funded on Kickstarter in 2014, this canny canine invention unfortunately seems to have run off without trace, but you can see the circuitry and load cells arrangement here (scroll down past the t shirt pics…).
Cutting your own vinyl record
Another Kickstarter project using load cells that caught our eye was the Desktop Record Cutter (DRC). This nifty turntable enabled musicians to literally cut their own analogue vinyl record at home, with live, computer-generated or recorded input. The inventor described the system as “basically a robot controlling an all-analog cutting path”. The load cell was used to measure the cutting pressure, which could be varied according to the medium being cut. With a projected price of around $6,500 it was never going to be a cheap option, but sadly the product wasn’t viable due to the cost of producing the required standard of components in-house. As Freddie Mercury once sang, “Another one bites the dust…”
Robots have come a long way since we first started building load cells way back in the mists of time. The sight of autonomous robots in a whole range of manufacturing and assembly is almost commonplace. What is less familiar is human-robot collaboration, which combines the strengths of both robot and human. This technology has great potential in providing ergonomic relief for manual workers performing repetitive tasks, but whose perceptive skills are required too. However, this assumes there is a skilled workforce in place who need a robotic hand.
The BBC highlighted this issue in a recent report on the issue of seasonal fruit pickers in strawberry fields. There is a European (and US) shortage of fruit pickers, whose human skills of assessing the ripeness of fruit across an entire plant in a field cannot be easily replicated using AI. A robot can recognise a single strawberry hanging from a raised platform growing system, but It can’t easily search for strawberries concealed under leaves, straw or ‘out of sight’ at the back of a plant in the field.
The BBC article outlines some nifty solutions but also states:
“Developers emphasise the motivation is not to replace migrant labour with cheaper, more efficient robots. In fact, it’s not proving easy to replicate the standards that human pickers deliver. Strawberry farmers say they are increasingly struggling to find people to do the work. They need the robots.”
Testing the robots for safety
Back in 2016, ISO/TS 15066 set out “Guidance for collaborative robot operation where a robot system and people share the same workspace. In such operations, the integrity of the safety-related control system is of major importance, particularly when process parameters such as speed and force are being controlled.” Needless to say, load cells are required to test the values set down in the TS document, and also in most of the robotic arms and grips used by these type of robots.
Even wanted to sleep beneath the ocean in a bedroom with 180 degree views of the marine life around you? At the high end Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, the world’s first luxurious underwater villa, The Muraka, has been dropped (gently) to the seabed, and is being kitted out for its first guests in November 2018. The underwater section includes a master bedroom with a kingsize bed, double bathroom, lounge area and 180 degree domed window. The upper level above water includes (wait for it) a further king size bedroom and twin-size bedrooms, two bathrooms, powder room, living room, open kitchen, bar, dining area and terrace, a second outdoor relaxation deck with private swimming pool, a gym, plus quarters for your butler and security detail, and – a lift.
The fascinating ‘story of’ promo video shows two cranes gently lowering the pre-constructed structure of the villa into the water, which was excuse enough for us to include this in our article. However, we suspect that load cells were also used extensively to test the integrity of the structure in the variety of conditions it might experience five meters under the surface. Watch the promo video or make a reservation at The Muraka.