Edinburgh Freddy Robot (Mid 1960s to 1981)

Freddy and Freddy II were the robots used in research during the 1960s and 1970s at the Department of Machine Intelligence and Perception which became the Department of Artificial Intelligence at the University of Edinburgh. Work continues in robotics at Edinburgh via the School of Informatic's Institute for Perception, Action and Behaviour.

Freddy II is the best known of the Edinburgh research robots from the 1970s. It utilised a heavy robot arm fixed to an overhead gantry with adaptive grippers. A binocular vision system was also mounted to the fixed gantry. The "world" consisted of a table that could be moved in two directions, giving the robot the impression of moving through its world.

Freddy II Robot around 1973-6

Other Freddy II Robot Resources

Freddy II Robot at National Museum of Scotland 2006

Description from IPAB's Assembly Robotics Group

Freddy, the Famous Scottish Robot

Freddy (mid 1960s - 1981) was one of the first robots to be able to assemble wooden models using vision to identify and locate the parts -- given a jumbled heap of toy wooden car and boat pieces it could assemble both in about 16 hours using a parallel gripper and single camera (1973). The 16 hours was due to the slowness of movement of the robot, an artefact of the limited computational power available for movement control in those days. An Elliot 4130 computer with 64k 24-bit words, later upgraded to 128k, was the main computer. A Honeywell H316, initially with 4k 16-bit words, later upgraded to 8k, controlled the robot motors and cameras. The videos we now have of Freddy's assembly work have been dubbed from 16mm film, as video hadn't been invented then. Even with today's knowledge, methodology, software tools, and so on, getting a robot to do this kind of thing would be a fairly complex and ambitious project. In those days, when they had to design and buld the robot, design and build the programming system, design and build the vision system, etc., it was a heroic pioneering feat which required to be demonstrated in practice in order to convince some that it was even possible.

Key Reference
A. P. Ambler, H. G. Barrow, C. M. Brown, R. M. Burstall, and R. J. Popplestone, A Versatile Computer-Controlled Assembly System, Proc. Third Int. Joint Conf. on AI, Stanford, California, pp. 298-307, 1973. [PDF]


Freddy's famous car and boat asssembly above was programmed as a list of end-effector positions. The great tedium and lack of generality in programming assembly robots in this way prompted the search for a higher level of assembly description. RAPT permitted robot positions and movements to be specified in terms of relationships (such as parallel, aligned, against) between geometric features (such as point, edge, and surface) of the parts being assembled. By 1980 this was well developed (largely by Popplestone, Ambler, and Bellos) and had been integrated with a solid geometric modeller front end (by Cameron) to facilitate part description and trajectory planning. The geometric nature of vision permitted its neat integration within the RAPT system using such ideas as a plane-of-gaze (defined by lens centre and two points in image plane marking an object edge) projected out and touching the edge of the real object (by Yin). The attempt in the mid 1980s to include reasoning about uncertainty based on tolerances on dimensions and positions, errors in robot movements, etc., foundered on a combinatorial explosion of computation.

This raised the interesting question of whether this was an unavoidably hard problem which simply needed very much more powerful computers, or whether there was another computationally cheaper way of tackling the problem.

Key Reference
Popplestone, R.J., Ambler, A.P., and Bellos, I., An Interpreter for a Language for Describing Assemblies, Artificial Intelligence Vol. 14, No. 1, pp. 79-107, 1980.

Description from Robot History at iiRobotics: The Robot Shop

In the 1970's Edinburgh University's Freddy robot was the vehicle for the Informatics Department's early artificial intelligence work on what might be termed hand/eye co-ordination in assembly robotics. The most noteworthy achievement was the Versatile Assembly Program, which enabled the robot to construct a toy boat and a toy car from a heap of mixed parts tipped onto the table. This experiment demonstrated that it was very difficult to devise successful assembly programs for a sensor-based robot, when the robot was programmed in terms of sequences of positions of its end-effector in Cartesian space. This is still the method used in commercial assembly robots today.

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