SiLC Technologies Unveils A Leap in Precision LiDAR Technology

CES rolled into Las Vegas this week. Many companies with technologies relevant to the area I cover have significant news. Lately there has been a lot of activity in vision generally. LiDAR has many industrial applications. SiLC Technologies has launched its Eyeonic Vision System Mini (Eyeonic Mini), a “groundbreaking” advancement in LiDAR technology. This system integrates a full multi-channel FMCW LiDAR on a single silicon photonic chip and an integrated FMCW LiDAR System-on-Chip (SoC).

Utilizing the industry’s first purpose-built digital LiDAR processor system-on-chip (SoC), the iND83301 (“Surya”) developed by indie Semiconductor, the Eyeonic Mini achieves an unprecedented level of detail, delivering an order of magnitude greater precision than existing technologies while being one-third the size of last year’s pioneering model. This latest innovation builds upon the success of SiLC’s first commercial FMCW LiDAR system, the Eyeonic Vision System, founded on an integrated silicon photonics chip and designed specifically for machine vision applications.

SiLC’s Eyeonic Vision Chip, central to the system, amalgamates all essential photonics functions into a coherent vision sensor, delivering a compact solution that meets the demands for performance, affordability and low power consumption. The system’s exceptional accuracy is driven by a 4-channel FMCW LiDAR chip, complemented by indie’s innovative Surya SoC, and equips robots with sub-millimeter depth precision from distances exceeding ten meters.

This level of precision opens new doors in automation, particularly in warehouse logistics and AI machine vision applications. For instance, AI-driven palletizing robots equipped with the Eyeonic Mini can fully view and interact with pallets, optimizing package placement and loading onto trucks with efficiency and safety. In the context of the U.S., with its over 13 million commercial trucks, this technology promises to revolutionize warehouse operations and the broader trucking industry, significantly boosting efficiency in loading and unloading processes.

Giving robots the intelligence to see, move, touch, think and learn, Dexterity is working on incorporating SiLC technology into their robot autonomy platform. “At Dexterity, we focus on AI, machine learning and robotic intelligence to make warehouses more productive, efficient and safe,” remarked CEO Samir Menon. “We are excited to partner with SiLC to unlock LiDAR for the robotics and logistics markets. Their technology is a revolution in depth sensing and will enable easier and faster adoption of warehouse automation and robotic truck load and unload.”

WePower Demos Energy Harvesting Generator Prototypes at CES 2024

WePower introduced itself to me (and the world) at CES 2023. Way back when process instrumentation companies were developing wireless sensors (remember the “wireless wars”?) the big question was battery life. I was just searching for the first energy harvesting company I interviewed. I guess it was published at Automation World rather than my blog.

Technology progresses. WePower unveiled some cool energy harvesting generator (EHG) tech last year. They are back at CES this year with three additional products.

Wireless, batteryless Gemns EHGs from WePower harvest energy from motion and convert it into usable electricity for small-scale data transmission devices like sensors across a wide range of applications. This waste-free transient power generation is critical to the growth of the IoT, especially in the United States where consumers throw away more than three billion batteries a year.

  • G100 Push-Button Switch: This 22mm push-button switch uses permanent and oscillating magnets to capture kinetic energy at a rate of more than 30 times that of the competition, and convert it to usable electricity, enabling a transmission output exceeding 8 dBm. This extra power enables data transmissions of significantly larger size, complexity, and distance across most advanced communication protocols, including ISM, Bluetooth, LoRa, Z-Wave, Thread, and Matter. The G100 push-button has been tested for a lifespan of over one million activations and is ideal for applications in industrial settings, smart home, and smart building environments.
  • G150 Vibration-Activated EHG: This continuous operation EHG component draws power from vibrations to drive its functionality as a sensor. WePower will demo this component using a speaker with variable vibration to showcase the product’s ability to harvest energy continuously while also registering and communicating the vibrations’ magnitudes. This combination of functionalities make the G150 EHG an ideal solution for applications in the mining and automotive industries where any variation in production line performance must be caught and communicated.
  • Industrial Limit Switch with G200: Designed to integrate seamlessly with industrial limit switches, the G200 EHG powers secure wireless transmissions across a diverse range of chips and is compatible with most advanced communication protocols. The principal unique benefit of the G200 is its substantially higher power output compared to current market offerings, enabling a game-changing two-way communication in industrial settings. This capability allows networks to confirm the receipt of safety-critical transmissions, ensuring that vital communications are both uninterrupted and verified, wirelessly and without the need for batteries—ultimately streamlining operations, reducing risk, and cutting down on waste.

Joint Development Construction of a Small-scale Distributed Chemical Recycling System

This news encompasses a couple of trends of the past few years—partnership collaboration and sustainability. Yokogawa sent this one to me. Looks promising. If the idea works out, the impact on our environment will be substantial. Imagine cleaning up all the accumulated plastic that will never go anywhere.

  • Working toward a circular economy through a high-efficiency system that utilizes renewable energy –
  • Yokogawa Solution Service Corporation announces the conclusion of an agreement with Microwave Chemical Co., Ltd. on the joint development of a small-scale distributed chemical recycling system that uses microwave heating.

The companies will aim to construct a small-scale, high-efficiency recycling system by combining Microwave Chemical’s high-efficiency plastic decomposition technology with an automation technology that is based on continuous control of the thermal decomposition process, an energy management system (EMS) for the utilization of renewable energy, and an electricity tracking system provided by Yokogawa Solution Service.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the volume of discarded plastic produced globally in 2019 was 353 million tons, which is more than double the 156 million tons produced in 2000, and of this, only 9% is recycled. As such, further initiatives are required if a circular economy is to be achieved.

Chemical recycling, in which used resources are chemically processed and broken down at the molecular level to return them to the state of a raw material, is an excellent method that enables materials to be repeatedly recycled, even if they are not clean or contain impurities. When it comes to the chemical recycling of discarded plastic, the main subject of investigation by major chemical manufacturers and other such companies in Japan and overseas is large-scale centralized processing facilities with capacities of several thousand tons to tens of thousands of tons. While these facilities can efficiently process large volumes of discarded plastic, the transport of these materials from remote locations is cost prohibitive and a source of CO2 emissions due to their low specific gravity and poor transportation efficiency per unit weight.

To address this issue, Yokogawa Solution Service and Microwave Chemical have concluded an agreement for the joint development of a small-scale distributed chemical recycling system to break down and process discarded plastic near where it is generated. This system has at its core a reactor that breaks down discarded plastic by using microwave heating, and it is used together with the aforementioned energy management system and electricity tracking system to reduce CO2 emissions.

Microwave Chemical’s PlaWave chemical recycling technology uses microwaves to directly heat discarded plastic and thereby speed up the process of breaking down and processing these materials. This saves energy and is suitable for use on a small scale. With a focus on measurement, control, and information, Yokogawa Solution Service provides production control systems, instruments, and other solutions that achieve highly efficient and safe operations at all kinds of plants. Its solution for this application centers on an energy management system that can optimize operations by predicting energy demand.

Since August 2022, the two companies have been using a chemical recycling bench plant to investigate ways to improve yield, operating rate, and energy efficiency of a process involving the use of microwaves to thermally break down polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP) and convert it into oil. They have verified the feasibility of this process and the methods for implementing it. On the basis of the results that were achieved, the companies concluded an agreement in September for the joint development of a small-scale distributed chemical recycling system.

Microwave Chemical will develop the core apparatus for the small-scale distributed chemical recycling system, and this will have built-in continuous thermal decomposition functionality for PE, PP, and PS (polystyrene). Yokogawa Solution Service will investigate measurement methods for monitoring the state of the thermal decomposition process and performing component analysis and estimation in real time. By making use of modeling technology developed by other companies in the Yokogawa Group, Yokogawa Solution Service will aim to automate the continuous control of the thermal decomposition process in this core apparatus, and thereby optimize this process. To enable the carbon neutral recovery of resources by using renewable energy as the power source for this core apparatus, Yokogawa Solution Service will develop and provide an EMS and an electricity tracking system. Via the cloud, data from these systems on the operating status and state of this core apparatus will be continuously acquired and analyzed to make improvements and reduce maintenance costs.

The plan from FY2023 to FY2024 is to develop prototypes that incorporate input on user needs, and firm up functions and specifications. In FY2025, a commercial small-scale distributed chemical recycling system will be developed with the aim of commercialize this system the following year.

In parallel with the development of this small-scale distributed chemical recycling system, Yokogawa Solution Service and Microwave Chemical intend to form a consortium with retailers, chemical manufacturers, oil companies, and other organizations that are involved in processes ranging from the recovery and transport of discarded plastic to the refining, repolymerization, and distribution of recycled raw materials. By working together with all parties in this supply chain and sharing the use of facilities such as this cloud-based small-scale distributed chemical recycling system, the aim is to realize a carbon neutral society. The two companies will discuss the possible commercialization of this small-scale distributed chemical recycling system.

Beyond ChatGPT

Bill Gates produces an occasional interview podcast called Unconfuse Me. I listened to Episode 5 today with AI computer scientist Yejin Choi. 

Few people are better at explaining the science of artificial intelligence than Yejin Choi. She’s a computer science professor at the University of Washington, senior research director at the Allen Institute for AI, and the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship. I thought her recent TED talk was terrific, and I was thrilled to talk to her about how you train a large language model, why it’s so hard for robots to pick tools out of a box, and why universities must play a key role in the future of AI research.

My takeaway from the conversation was the thought that tools like ChatGPT continue to grow larger. But this makes the science of the query very important. After reviewing some other technologies, Choi posits that what will really progress into useful tools would be reducing the scope. Instead of trying to be all things to all people, what about working on special purpose AI models—say maybe a math tutor.

I thought immediately about my conversations with recently retired Mike Brooks and the ML technology deep within AspenTech. And that is not the only place within process control software where you will find machine learning (ML, which is an AI technology) working for us.

Forget hand-wringing about the future like our journalist friends like to publish. Try thinking making AI useful.

Emerson News on Decoupling, Edge, Valve Status App

Three recent items from Emerson just came my way. The essay on Emerson Process Experts about decoupling software, hardware, I/O in control systems piqued my interest as Emerson’s “response” to the Open Process Automation Forum’s work. I place response in quotation marks because I’m not sure when they really started development. I know that Honeywell, for example, began its development work even before OPAF.

Emerson also is playing at the Edge, while valves continue to be an important part of the product portfolio noted by the release of a valve-related product.

It’s Time to Break Up—Automation’s Future will be Defined by Decoupling by Todd Walden, Claudio Fayad 

As Claudio Fayad explains in his recent article in Processing magazine, there are many exciting changes coming as Emerson embarks on its Boundless Automation journey and evolves the modern control system in to a next-generation automation platform. However, what might come as a surprise is that many of the coming evolutions will look familiar, as quite a bit of the important work is based in a decoupling journey—one that actually started a long time ago.

People who have been in the automation industry a long time likely still remember the days when I/O required termination on marshalling cabinets and I/O cards attached to the controller. The complicated interface meant project engineering was extremely complex—wiring diagrams needed to be created in advance of every project and though they could be changed later in the project, those changes could quickly become very costly.

To meet this need, Emerson designed an Electronic Marshalling solution. Electronic Marshalling decoupled I/O from the controller, empowering teams to define I/O on an as-needed basis and gave them the option to stay flexible even in the late stages of a project. And while that critical transformation took place decades ago, the decoupling of I/O from the control system is still relevant in one of the newest technologies that will form the foundation of the Boundless Automation journey: advanced physical layer (APL). APL brings the power and flexibility of Ethernet into the plant using the two-wire cabling that plants already have in place. As Claudio explains, using APL to further decouple I/O from the control system will bring big benefits,

Emerson’s New Edge Solution Democratizes Operational Data

Emerson has launched the DeltaV Edge Environment that expands the capabilities of the evolving DeltaV automation platform to provide an operational technology (OT) sandbox for data manipulation, analysis, organization and more. Teams can deploy and execute applications to run key artificial intelligence (AI) engines and analytics close to the data source with seamless, secure connectivity to contextualized OT data across the cloud and enterprise. The DeltaV Edge Environment empowers teams to more quickly deliver operational improvements tied to productivity, sustainability and other business objectives.

A single, encrypted, outbound-only flow of data helps authorized users ensure they have constant access to near real-time data without risk of users accessing the control system—a common risk with traditional custom-engineered solutions. Users can run applications for visualization, analytics, alarm management, digital twin simulations and other needs with the contextualized data available on the DeltaV Edge Environment. OT teams will know the rich data they use is a precise replica, always up to date and fully reflective of the current operating condition.

The DeltaV Edge Environment leverages open, common protocols such as OPC Unified Architecture (OPC UA) to provide contextualized data while standard application programming interfaces like representational state transfer architectural style (REST API) and scripting tools like Python provide the sandbox environment in which users can design and run applications.

Learn more on the DeltaV Edge Environment webpage.

New Valve Health App Provides Timely Plantwide Health Indicators

Emerson has announced the Plantweb Insight Valve Health Application, a powerful software tool that combines Fisher control valve expertise with advanced analytic algorithms. The new app makes it possible for users to visualize an entire connected fleet of valves, while prioritizing actions based on the health index of each valve. This helps plant personnel optimize valve repair activities, resulting in faster and better maintenance decisions, leading to reduced downtime.

The app allows users to prioritize repair and maintenance activities with five different indicators—Repair Urgency Status, Valve Health Index, Financial Impact, Criticality, and NE107 Alert Status—to meet specific needs. The app includes explanations, recommendations, and suggested time to take action. This last indicator is totally new to the market and is one of the app’s exclusive features.

Arduino Hardware Now Driving Commercial Innovation in More Than 30,000 Businesses Including Industrial

I don’t do “Top 10 Trends for Next Year” articles. I find them worthless. I do observe and ask questions. Part of these questions were spurred by these two news items about Arduino, that open source inexpensive hardware platform. I also have a news item following about a similar technology—the Raspberry Pi.

Consider these hardware platforms. Consider also that many new engineers will be entering the industry with the wish to use tools such as Python and NodeRED. And no wish for Relay Ladder Logic, or Ladder Diagram as it’s known in IEC 61131. I’d swear that when I was in the machine design and build business every time we lost money on a project it was due to difficulty trouble shooting bugs in Ladder.

I also lived through the transition Rockwell had to make when its cash cows the PLC5 and NEMA motor starters were bypassed by new technology. Developing the Logix engine and moving control development to South Korea and Singapore for the ControlLogix bought the company many years.

Now, I ask, will these new engineers look at the price of a ControlLogix (or similar from Siemens, Beckhoff, ABB, Emerson) and say, “I can do more with less”? I have been asking executives I meet for the past few months. Many see this possibility.

Something to think about as we check out this Arduino news.

In brief:

  • Customers report 25-40% accelerated time to market and up to 60% reduction in non-recurring engineering (NRE) services
  • Eight companies — including AWS, Software AG, AT Kearney and DMC — joined Arduino Partner Programs in Q3.
  • Annual partner conference brought together technology, distributor and integrator partners from around the world

Arduino, an open-source hardware pioneer with 32 million active developers worldwide, today announced its hardware is now integrated into more than 30,000 businesses globally.

The Arduino System Integrators Partnership Program saw tremendous growth in the third quarter, with eight companies signing up as partners, including AWS, Software AG, AT Kearney, DMC, DojoFive, Motion Technology, Riotsecure, and Opreto. These new partners are helping to fuel growth for professional service companies integrating Arduino technology in commercial projects for enterprise clients. Over 20 new system integrators have been accepted into the partnership program over the calendar year.

The program has proven successful for both Arduino and its partners, particularly in industrial automation, condition monitoring, predictive maintenance, IoT and smart agriculture. When leveraging Arduino products with system integrator partners, customers report 25-40% accelerated time to market and up to 60% reduction in non-recurring engineering (NRE) services. Distribution partners remain Arduino’s primary go-to-market source, with 2024 forecasts estimated to be over 200% YoY.

The industrial-grade line of Arduino PRO products lowers the barrier to entry and accelerates time to market for OEMs and industry integrators. Featuring 24 products, including the Portenta X8 Linux SOM and UL-certified Opta PLC. Arduino PRO technology gives more people the power of automation and controls than ever before.

The second news item concerns a new SI parrtnership.

  • DMC joins the Arduino System Integrator Partner Program as a Platinum Partner to accelerate time to market for enterprise customers.
  • DMC expands Arduino PRO solutions to 13 offices throughout North America, specializing in manufacturing automation & intelligence, test & measurement, embedded development and full-stack software development, including web, cloud, mobile & backend services.
  • The combination of DMC’s expert system integration services with Arduino’s world-class hardware advances the democratization of open hardware in the industrial automation sector.

DMC joins Arduino’s ecosystem as a Platinum Partner, part of the Arduino System Integrators Partnership Program. The program is designed to fuel growth for professional service companies integrating Arduino technology in commercial projects for enterprise clients. Under the partnership, DMC and Arduino jointly approach projects to accelerate time-to-market and reduce NRE costs. 

The partnership will initially focus on producing commercial solutions for manufacturing, logistic centers, and factories leveraging Arduino’s Opta PLC and Portenta Machine Controller, as well as OEM product development incorporating the Portenta and Nicla line of modules for embedded applications. 

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