Software Improves Performance of Autonomous Mobile Robots

Two product trends flow into my inbox the past few months. One that I’ve recently devoted space concerns open automation. The other reveals constant activity in the general robot market.  Whether cobots or Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs), energy and innovation abound.

This news comes from Mobile Industrial Robots (MiR) who recently introduced a new software foundation that enables more robust and scalable AMRs for faster missions, tighter integration with other systems, and enhanced cybersecurity.

The first phase of the new software, available now for both individual and entire fleets, focuses on a faster, more intuitive user interface that enables customers to more quickly perform functions such as:

  • planning and re-planning navigation on the fly around obstacles with optimized reaction to anything moving nearby, such as other robots, forklifts or human workers
  • navigating in large facilities efficiently and switch smoothly between different floors or production halls

The new MiR software comes with a completely redesigned user-interface to enhance the overall ease of use.

MiR’s increased focus on cybersecurity is evident with this new software, with new security improvements according to the IEC 62443 cybersecurity standard for industrial automation systems, including:

  • software code signing
  • extended robot authentication
  • update of the robot operating system

Automated Palletizing Solution

Palletizing and depalletizing are two workhorse robotic applications within automated assembly and also packaging. Just when I figured it was a mature technology, companies are releasing innovative new products. This news comes from OnRobot who has released OnRobot Palletizer described as “a complete collaborative palletizing solution designed to take the physical and financial pain out of palletizing processes.”

OnRobot Palletizer lets users choose a palletizing system that works for their specific application needs thanks to its space saving footprint, and ability to handle many different types of boxes, packages, patterns, pallets and stacking heights. Compatible with collaborative robot and light industrial robots from the Doosan, FANUC, OMRON, Techman, and Universal Robots brands, the OnRobot Palletizer is available as a complete out-of-the-box system or as individual components to create a mix-and-match solution. 

The OnRobot Palletizer includes four new hardware and software products:

OnRobot Palletizing, intuitive palletizing software that guides users through the entire deployment from start to finish via a single intelligent interface for all components. Once the physical hardware is in place and secured, the end-user or integrator simply opens OnRobot Palletizing to receive step-by-step guidance through the process of setting up a palletizing application. Using OnRobot Palletizing, an inexperienced end-user can set up a full palletizing application in a day, versus 12 or more days using conventional programming software. 

The OnRobot 2FGP20, a powerful, versatile, electric palletizing gripper with a 20 kg payload and customizable arms that can handle standard cardboard boxes as well as open boxes and shelf-ready products while also handling slip sheets without changing the gripper or requiring additional handling; no external air supply required.

The OnRobot Lift100, a robust elevator with a total payload of 100 kg that provides a 7th axis for cobot and lightweight industrial robot brands; TÜV-certified stop-functionality facilitates safe and effective collaborative deployments; provides safe and precise positioning even at high speeds.

The OnRobot Pallet Station, durable floor mounted pallet fixtures designed to ensure consistent positioning; each comes with a built-in sensor for detecting pallet presence.

“Small and midsized companies need palletizing automation that is easy to use, fast to deploy and affordable – even if the application changes over time,” says Enrico Krog Iversen, CEO of OnRobot. “OnRobot Palletizer combines fast deployment times with a small footprint and the best price point in the market – all using our application-focused approach that gives customers much more flexibility than traditional approaches. OnRobot Palletizer can be deployed out-of-the-box and with minimal disruption to existing factory and warehouse layouts.”

OnRobot Palletizing software “significantly reduces the set-up time needed to have the application running,” says Adrián Pérez Martínez, CTO & Co-Founder at Neobotik, an automation integrator based in Huelva, Spain, one of the sites where OnRobot Palletizer was tested prior to launch. “It is so easy to install all the hardware and software when doing the initial set up of the cell. And the graphical user interface makes it possible even for non-expert programmers to program a full palletizer solution.”

OnRobot Palletizer has three main advantages over existing palletizing automation, explains Martínez: “It’s fast to deploy. It has an easy-to-use programming interface. And the gripper weight is optimal, making the solution ideal for a wide range of collaborative palletizing applications, including in industries such as food and beverage, where there is a high flow of open boxes ready to be palletized and gripping the boxes using a traditional vacuum gripper is not possible.” 

Multi-Axis Cobot Solution

Innovation continues within the cobot or collaborative robot ecosystem. As well, Festo continues to announce interesting innovations. This one concerns a certified multi-axis solution for Universal Robotics (UR) cobots. This system adds up to four axes of motion beyond the UR standard six axes embodying Festo’s precision, reliability, and longevity.

Set up is easy (relatively, of course). No programming is involved in set up and no additional PLC is required. Multi-axes are configured through the UR HMI. End users simply set position, speed, and acceleration on the HMI or, using the URCap toolbar, move the axes in manual mode to configure motion.

The multi-axis system features the Festo Motion Control Package (FMCP) for UR, which is a complete motion control panel for up to four axis motion. The FMCP is fully integrated with the UR cobot control panel and HMI and features a UR safety I/O and communications interface. 

In addition to a seventh axis used for linear transfer, the FMCP can control turning tables, automatic storage systems, conveyors, and transfer tables, all under the UR umbrella. The FMCP has extra space within the panel for future expansion and brackets for wall mounting, which reduces footprint.

The seventh axis is also used for extending the range of action for a UR cobot in such applications as palletizing and machine tending. Festo EGC belt-driven or ball-screw linear axes comes equipped with a cobot mounting plate. The EGC has an energy chain for cable management and servo motor optimized for performance. Standard EGC axes are available in lengths of up to 8 m with up to 10 m axes available by request.

Wearable Robotics Demonstration

While we are on a robot/human collaboration theme, take a look at this exoskeleton from WearTech Center. The evolution of ergonomics and human-assist tech has fascinated me for a very long time. I’m old enough to remember the hard and dangerous ways. Given some of the stuff I’ve done early in my career, I’m lucky to be hear with all my extremities intact.

The WearTech Center, an applied research center accelerating the development of emerging technology products, along with Arizona-based wearable device companies GoX Labs and AKE, and Arizona State University’s top mechanical engineering researchers, are advancing worker wellness and safety with new exoskeleton technology. Through the public-private collaboration, Arizona-based innovators announced they are developing a new exoskeleton that will make workplaces safer for millions of workers in many industries. The wearable exoskeleton technology called PhenEx will help workers squat and lift heavy loads promoting overall worker health.

Previously, GoX Labs, AKE and ASU successfully developed a similar ex called the Aerial Porters Exoskeleton, or APEx. More than $31 million is spent annually in disability benefits for retired aerial porters, who had a high incidence of musculoskeletal injuries, according to a U.S. Department of Transportation’s Volpe Center study. To promote worker wellness and make pushing and lifting easier and safer, APEx is designed to assist people in loading a 10,000-pound pallet and pushing it onto an airplane.

“There are 89 million workers exposed to injury at work every day. As Arizona continues to grow as a hub for many different industries, the need for exoskeletons that promote workplace wellness only increases. Working through the WearTech Center to collaborate with ASU’s researchers gives us the push we need to take our technology to the next level,” said Dr. Joseph Hitt, CEO of GoX Labs.

At the WearTech Center, GoX Labs’ and AKE’s exoskeleton technology product development follows the applied research model which accelerates the process via collaboration with public and private sectors partners. The center shepherds these innovative products through the idea generation, project formation, validation, and commercialization phases.

“Innovations like what GoX Labs, AKE and ASU are developing through the WearTech Center have a high impact on reducing workplace injuries and enhancing Arizona’s economic development,” said Wes Gullett, Operations Director of Applied Research Centers for the Partnership for Economic Innovation. “The Arizona Legislature’s public investment in applied research capabilities and our ability to connect innovators to the tools they need to accelerate their product’s development grows Arizona’s economy and fuels its innovation opportunities.”

APEx is already being used by the U.S. Air Force by aerial porters to load heavy cargo onto planes. GoX Labs, AKE and ASU are continuing their collaborative efforts creating the quasi-active exoskeleton PhenEx with the support of the WearTech Center. The wearable PhenEx leverages sensors to activate spring elements when workers need to perform physical activities for their jobs. The quasi-active exoskeleton unlocks when the worker is at rest, walking or driving as to not hinder motion. The WearTech Center will assist with applied research and testing for product development.

GoX Labs and AKE will test out PhenEX on local employers like Amazon, Lucid Motors, and other industry partners through WearTech. Arizona employers can get involved in the testing of PhenEx by emailing [email protected]

RoboSkin Human-Like Sensing for Robots and Prosthetics

Technology adapting robots to ever more interesting applications advances almost daily. I’m not concerned with the dystopian robots taking over for humans meme, but we are definitely in the age of robots and humans working closely together to accomplish more and better tasks.

This advancement in sensing technology comes from BeBop Sensors—smart fabric sensor technologies.

A NERVOUS SYSTEM FOR ROBOTS

  • Less than 1mm Thick Advanced Fabric-Based Sensor Skin 
  • Exceeds Human Abilities for Spatial Resolution & Sensitivity
  • Fits Any Body Part of Humanoid Robot or Prosthetic

BeBop Sensors, www.bebopsensors.com the world leader in smart fabric sensor technologies, announced RoboSkin line of skin-like coverings for tactile awareness for humanoid robots and prosthetics. A true nervous system for robots at less than 1mm thick, RoboSkin is the only technology that fits all robotic body parts: limbs, fingers, feet, head, and torso, to make robots “feel” better. RoboSkin’s advanced fabric-based sensor skin can be shaped to any surface allowing quick tailoring to fit any robot, with spatial resolution and sensitivity that exceeds human abilities for a true partnership between humans and their robot helpers.

Why we need not fear robots replacing humans—we’ll need them.

The Census Bureau predicts that for the first time ever, there will be more Americans over the age of 65 than under 18, with Japan having the oldest population with 30% over 65. In addition, “The Great Resignation” shows no sign of slowing down, with record numbers of people leaving the work force. Human-like robots are stepping up to this urgent need, augmenting humans in the workplace, hospitals, and homes; with roles in healthcare, as domestic help, in manufacturing, distribution, biohazards, and even in entertainment and companionship roles. A human shape ensures a robot should be able to perform any human task; to fit through any door and use every human tool. Robots do not need to have the environment made around their needs — robots can do jobs humans want to avoid.

Founder Keith McMillen said, “I have been working with roboticists refining our RoboSkin for 10 years. We are pleased we can make this important contribution to the worldwide effort to bring humanoid robots into our lives to help people live longer, healthier, and more enjoyable lives.”

RoboSkin is available immediately for a variety of applications in robotics and prosthetics, including biohazard, digital health, IoT, VR/AR, automotive, law enforcement, testing, and more. For more information, see the video.

BeBop Sensors’ Founder & CTO, Keith McMillen started and sold two companies in his 40+ years innovating in the sensor and audio market. Zeta Music revolutionized stringed instruments and was sold to Gibson Guitars in 1992. Octiv, started in 2000, received funding from 3i and Intel Capital and was sold to Plantronics (NYSE:PLT) in 2005. McMillen is the inventor on numerous patents, has released hundreds of profitable products and published dozens of scholarly papers; as well as winning a Guthman Award in 2010. He received a BS in Acoustics from University of Illinois at Urbana.

US Alliance of Robotics Clusters to Advocate for Industry

Five years ago I would not have predicted so much robotics news and advancements. This is news about organizations collaborating for the advancement of robotics.

MassRobotics, Pittsburgh Robotics Network and Silicon Valley Robotics have formed the United States Alliance of Robotics Clusters (USARC). USARC supports the development, commercialization and scaling of robotics for global good by collaborating with government and industry stakeholders.

Organizations need focus and deliverables. USARC’s list:

●      Increased collaboration and communication across U.S. robotics clusters

●      Enhanced support and success for stakeholders and startups

●      Focused advocacy for the robotics and artificial intelligence industries

With a goal to help meet U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, USARC and its members will support:

·       Sustainability through myriad robotics application including agritech, energy efficiency, recycling and climate change

·       Revitalization of local industry and economic development through the growth of robotics clusters

·       Onshoring more robotics and artificial intelligence businesses and initiatives