Standards Lab does the robot

by | Jul 2, 2009

A few things come to mind when I hear the word “robot”: The ’80s dance craze, the Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots toy and the roving acts that entertain children at the N.C. State Fair.

But when I dropped by the department’s Standards Lab, which performs mass, length, volume and temperature measurement calibrations to be sure weights and scales across the state are accurate and reliable, I saw a very different type of robot that is helping the division’s metrologists (who perform these tests) better help consumers.

The Standards Lab assists consumers and companies (usually scale, pharmaceutical, defense and nuclear companies, as well as schools and universities) be sure the weights they use for classroom, research and medical activities are accurate. For example, if I brought in a 1 kilogram weight I was using to measure out 1 kg of medicine, the Standards Lab would test my weight against weights it is sure weigh 1 kg to check that I am getting accurate measurements.

The robot, which looks more like an elongated telephone booth than Rosie, the Jetsons’ mechanical maid, is able to do these tests without any human involvement; its robotic arm transfers weights being tested from a holding area (see picture below) to a special scale using its comb-like spatulas. It then weighs each weight multiple times to get an accurate reading before returning it to the holding area and starting over with the next weight. You can see in the video below how it moves the weights around on its own, assisted only by a computer.

Lab manager Sharon Woodard, who performs the same calculations by hand, explains that the robot will increase accuracy, as well as greatly reduce the time consumers have to wait for comparisons to be made. It will also be able to work 24 hours a day and through the night, when heat from lights, computers and human activity is at its lowest level.

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The machine, which is the first of its kind in the Western Hemisphere, was only recently installed at the lab by its creator, and is still undergoing developmental tests to prepare for the mandatory audits required for it to begin official calibrations. Check out the pictures below to see how the robot was installed, and contact the Standards Lab at (919) 733-4411 if you have questions on the measurements and calibrations the lab performs.