URCaps : App Store for Universal Robots
Posted on Nov 06, 2014 9:03 PM. 3 min read time
The app store model is awesome for phones and tablets. Using this model, rich ecosystems have developed around these platforms, adding tremendous value to the phone or tablet you're using. Think about yours: are you using more of the basic functionalities or the apps that you've downloaded? Could this model be translated to robots? This is an intriguing question. There are already some attempts to improve robot functionality this way, see: Robotappstore and Robotshop. Upcoming Jibo is also presented as a potential platform for developers. And of course there's ROS. On the industrial robotics side, Universal Robots is experimenting with a similar concept, having launched URCaps.
What is URCaps?
Since the Universal Robots' platform is so easy to integrate, many end users do it themselves. Although, when it's time to buy accessories or end effectors for your robot, it is sometimes confusing to know all the options available. Universal Robots has launched URCaps to help end users get the best performance out of their collaborative robot. In fact, some websites out there offer a lot of different products and it is often too hard to figure out if these accessories will fit just fine on your particular robot. Universal Robots' ''app store'' or should we say "cap store" only contains accessories or tools that have been proven to work well with the UR platform. Information on all kinds of grippers, bases, protective suits, cameras, etc. are provided directly to the customer. As you may notice once on the website, this is not exactly the app store model, but it is one step in that direction.
Other than a good fit, the URCaps allows you to reduce the risks related to the integration of a new tool. In fact, since every product on the website has been used in several UR applications, as an end user you know it will work, which is no small assurance considering all the available options out there. The products will work well on the UR's robots and their compatibility is already proven.
The website is not a sales oriented site, right now it's only a directory. It is a reference for all users of Universal Robots to get information and know where to look for different products. Information on the products and their functionalities are shared on the website. This is an opportunity to spread information and reach a wider range of people. Also it helps to know what options are available and which products are appreciate by other users who may have similar applications to yours.
Will URCaps be successful?
For developers, 2 things are important when it comes to developing apps: the number of reachable platforms and the ability to build useful apps. The numbers for UR are still relatively small compared to the number of Android devices out there, but it's growing fast from a robotics standpoint. As a 3rd party, the platform is open enough (thanks to their Linux based OS) to be able to quickly develop new 'Caps'. For UR, it is a great way to have other people and companies add value to their robots at no cost for them. If it takes off, it might become an important competitive advantage in the rapidly evolving collaborative robot marketplace.
What's a shame is that many things developed there will be difficult to port onto other robot platforms who currently have a larger combined total volume. This of course is because of the lack of a standard like ROS and the fact that many robot systems are closed systems. And if you think about all the things that can be done with apps and transfer that to robotics, surely there are a myriad of apps that we can only dream about now, but that could become a reality if every little app added up together could provide the functionality we are looking for in our future robots.
We do have Robotiq product on the URCaps web pages. Our 2-Finger 85 Adaptive Gripper and 3-Finger Adaptive Gripper are featured on the website. And our FT 150 Force Torque Sensor also comes packaged for Universal Robots.
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