Modern Machine Shop

SEP 2018

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MMS SEPTEMBER 2018 68 CONTROL TECHNOLOGY the device is hard to appreciate except by direct experience. My phone does nothing I couldn't already do in some other way. Yet it changed my life because of all the tasks it has made much easier. Athena offers much the same promise. We do not fully appreciate how much of the informa- tion a machine tool operator might need is located in different places, and therefore how difficult or time consuming it is to access and employ that information. Commanding the machine verbally, along with obtaining accurate information about the machine, tool or job as needed, essentially just by asking into the air, promises to allow skilled operators to work far more accurately and effec- tively than is practical for them to do today. We also do not fully appreciate how much inefficiency comes from operators possessing different levels of proficiency with different con- trol models in the same shop. Athena takes that difficulty away because its developers have engi- neered it to work the same way with a variety of brands and models of machine tool controls. The system consists of a headset with shop-noise-cancelling features and software running on a shop-hardened notebook PC. The operator uses the headset's microphone to give commands and ask questions—virtually any command it might be reasonable to issue to the CNC and virtually any question relevant to the machine or job. Commands might include, "Athena, run part-program number 408," "Athena, stop the coolant" or "Athena, tool change to T15." Stating the device's name activates it, like Apple's Siri or Amazon's Alexa. For any command driving a machine motion, the system checks its under- standing of the human operator by restating the command as a question and listening for "Athena, yes." Meanwhile, queries might include, "Athena, show the alarm history," "Athena, show me how to set up for part-program number 408" or "Athena, how do I change the air filter?" As these queries indicate, the development of this technology has involved more than speech recognition. It has also involved algorithms for searching machine manu- als and shop documentation accurately to serve up the expected answers to human questions. Today, one Athena headset and PC controls one machine tool. This is the model by which the technology will be field tested and refined, start- ing with beta users yet this year, the company says. But the planned next step will be wireless connectivity suitable for the shop f loor, allowing one operator wearing one headset to engage with many machines. The ultimate objective is many headsets for the many different roles within the shop, with various employees possessing different levels of access to command or query machines depending on their different roles. iT SpeeX is a Mason, Ohio-headquartered busi- ness launched in 2016 that arrived at a working version of the current technology in January. The technology is in large part a result of the collision of interests of company founder Dan Bagley. A long-time veteran of the machine tool industry, most recently serving as strategist for the National Tooling and Machining Association, Mr. Bagley is also on the board of a speech technology company, Cepstral. The latter role brought him in contact with Jeff Adams, project leader involved in devel- oping Amazon's Alexa, who joined Mr. Bagley in the effort to develop an interactive voice-command HMI for manufacturing equipment—one that is independent of machine tool brand. Mr. Bagley says, "Shops want to use their machines simply, so more people can cross-train across brands, controls and features. And they want more information—faster information for setups combined with less mystery in the machine features. Think about antilock brakes. No one knows they're interacting with a sophis- ticated system governing their braking, but they use it routinely. Rate and power of braking are determined by intelligence operating in the system, and you never read a PDF or punch keys to activate or inform it." This is the ultimate aim of Athena, he says. Voice recognition is the means Voice recognition is the means of interaction, but the full promise is effective machine operation without any special expert knowledge of the particular machine.

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