Press Release

NSK Develops Proximity Sensor and Real-Time Conical Scan Sensor

Robotics Sensor Technology Designed to Contribute to Safe, Smoothly Operating Societies

Tokyo, Japan, November 12 2009 – NSK Ltd. (NSK; Headquarters: Tokyo, Japan; President and CEO: Norio Otsuka) announced today that it has developed two kinds of sensor technologies: a proximity sensor and a real-time conical scan sensor. NSK is committed to contributing to the evolution of human-assisting technologies that help build safe, smoothly operating societies by developing sensor technologies like these, meant for human-assisting robots.

Human-assisting robots will be required to perform actions in consistent proximity to humans, necessitating an extremely high assurance of safety. This is why NSK co-developed a proximity sensor, together with Professor Makoto Shimojo of the University of Electro-Communications' Department of Mechanical Engineering and Intelligent Systems, as a sensor technology that enables emergency avoidance of unexpected obstacles. NSK also co-developed a real-time conical scan sensor, together with Associate Professor Chisato Kanamori of the same university department, as a sensor technology that can ascertain the geometry of a route. NSK will exhibit these new technologies at the International Robot Exhibition 2009 and gauge the market's latent needs by proposing applications for both sensors.

Proximity sensor
The proximity sensor detects in real-time the distance and the centered position of a target to the front by using numerous linearly arranged sensing elements. The elements detect obstacle by reflected light of emitting LED light. NSK developed this technology for obstacle avoidance in human-assisting robots. The sensor's key features are the ability to obtain information from numerous sensing elements with minimal wiring and an emergency avoidance response time of under 1 msec (1/1000 of a second). The sensor was also given flexibility by making the mounting substrate from a pliable material.
Real-time conical scan sensor
The conical scan is the method to process the distance data from the rangefinder as the scanning trajectory drawing the conical shape. This enables to calculate the position and orientation of the target's surface from the distance data corresponding to the scan angle. This technology will enable robots to move safely by recognizing the geometry and slope of the route surface where they are traveling, and feeding this information back into their attitude control. The sensor's key feature is the algorithm used for real-time processing of the conical scan data to rapidly ascertain the route geometry.

Development background

The 21st century is being called the era of life sciences, and emphasis is being placed on the development of technologies that will enable people to live better. One case in point is robot technology, which has developed rapidly in recent years through cross-fertilization with other fields (e.g., IT and automation technology) and is becoming widespread in people's lives in diverse forms. To date, NSK has been involved in the development of these robot technologies through the supply of such products as bearings, NSK linear guides, and ball screws. NSK is now engaged in R&D on human-assisting robots with the aim making more in-depth contributions to the development of this field, which is closely connected to the life sciences.

Leveraging its four core technologies (tribology, materials, analysis, and mechatronics), NSK will strive to continue developing human-assisting robot technologies in the future.