Friday, April 24, 2020

Safety Systems for Mobile Robots

Reading Time: 4 minutes

A Mobile Robot should be safe, not colliding against people or goods as a result of potential failures. In order to ensure this is possible, Safety Systems should be able to control the movement of the Mobile Robot even if the Main System fails. A Safety System may allow the Main System to try to avoid an obstacle, but if the Mobile Robot gets dangerously close to the obstacle, the Safety System may stop directly the motors, overriding the control from the Main System, although informing to it.

This short post gives a quick overview of what are Safety Systems for Mobile Robots and why they are so  important.

Safety Standards

In order to make the Mobile Robot system safe, there are some safety standards. To comply with these safety standards, Mobile Robots must include some safety sensors and devices to avoid and  prevent risks

AGVs (Automated Guided Vehicle) are a specific set of Mobile Robots for Industry, able to perform specific tasks usually critical for production. This kind of Mobile Robots have very specific mandatory standards to follow:

  • AGV safety standards in the USA are defined by ANSI B56.5 - 2012, Safety Standard for Driverless, Automatic Guided Industrial Vehicles and Automated Functions of Manned Industrial Vehicles. 
  • AGV safety standards in Europe are found in EN1525: 1997 “Safety of industrial trucks – Driverless trucks and their systems”

While both safety standards are important, there are gaps that fail to cover some of the latest technology. As mobile robots become more autonomous, correct their path while in motion, and gain new features and functions such as robotic arms, new safety standards are required. One of the most promising safety standards for new technologies in Mobile Robotics is ANSI/RIA 15.08 – Safety Standard for Industrial Mobile Robots and Mobile Manipulators – (in progress)

Safety Devices

A safety system as defined in the safety standards mentioned may require one or more safety elements. Typical Mobile Robots Safety devices are:
  • Safety Laser scanner 
  • Contact Bumpers for stopping Mobile Robots (Quite uncommon nowadays)
  • Emergency Stop Buttons
  • Safety PLC
The different safety devices could be used together, usually controlled by a Safety PLC, as it is shown in the following image of a typical Mobile Robot safety system: Two safety laser scanners, two safety stop buttons, motor encoder and motor brake, all connected to a Safety PLC. In this kind of system, the safety PLC could know the speed of the Mobile Robot and activate different laser detection fields. Also, could stop the Mobile Robot activating the motor brake in case an emergency stop button or in case the laser scanner detect an object in the protective field. Usually Safety PLCs are connected to other systems that control the kinematics and behavior of the Mobile Robot. This other system could reduce the speed of the Mobile Robot in case the laser scanner detects an object in the warning field, so the Safety PLC informs this other system in such case.

Typical integration of safety system in a Mobile Robot. Source: Sick AG
This post just gives a general overview of Safety Systems. If you want more information about Safety Systems implementation, I would recomend you to read the thirteen pages document "Safety Systems for Mobile Robots" I prepared. 


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Friday, February 28, 2020

Cloud Computing for our exponential world

4 minutes reading

National Institute of Standards and Technology defined Cloud Computing in 2011 in the NIST Definition of Cloud Computing document, telling us about three types of Cloud based Service Models: IaaS, PaaS and SaaS

We could compare these models with a full On-Premises model (Traditional IT):

  • IaaS (Infrastructure As A Service): Where the provider offers the infrastructure, so you do not need to pay attention to this part and focus on the relevant parts of your solution.
  • PaaS (Platform As A Service): The provider offers you up to the Runtime level. It means that you have ready an environment where the infrastructure, O/S, middleware and runtime are all available and you focus on your data and applications. An example of this may be AWS Robomaker, where you could have all the infrastructure, plus the O/S (Ubuntu xx.xx for example), plus a middleware (ROSx), plus the runtimes needed, simulators, etc. so you focus on programming using the full created environment. See my previous post about AWS Robomaker
  • SaaS (Software As A Service): The provider offers the full solution for you. Easy example is Gmail

From 2011 Cloud Computing has evolved a lot and NIST document, although still correct in its foundations, may require to cover a bit more on the complexity that nowadays cloud has. Anyway is still a good document to understand Cloud fundations.

There are many providers of solutions for one or more of the service models mentioned. The most known ones are Microsoft (Azure), Amazon (AWS) and Google (Google Cloud) at least for IaaS and PaaS although there are other like IBM Cloud and Oracle Cloud that worth to mention.

More and more companies are using these cloud based services to offer as well other XaaS (“Anything As A Service), From RaaS (Robot As A Service) to GaaS (Games as a Service) and although cloud based solutions are not always well accepted by customers that are worried mainly about security and accessibility matters, cloud is undoubtedly where everything will go as soon as we ensure that customers feel comfortable with it (ensuring them safety, reliability and accessibility), almost everything will be cloud based. Just think that nowadays all Bank services are available via Internet (BaaS) and we accept operating with it, being our personal and company accounts involved.

Cloud is were scalability and elasticity is possible and World needs scalability. Cloud is were multi-devices hardware-agnostic and OS-agnostic solutions are possible, where worldwide access is possible, even from the International Space Station. Cloud is were multi-connectivity with any device is possible. It doesn’t matter if it is an IOT device, a database server, a robot, a tablet or even a human brain. Cloud is the only option that really we have to continue our exponential technical growth. And remember, world evolution is an exponential function, not linear one.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Educational Robotics. A growing business with purpose

I like the definition from Wikipedia of educational robotics: "... a subdiscipline of robotics, applied to the educational field that focuses on the design, analysis, application and operation of robots. It can be taught in all educational levels, from kindergarten and primary education to postgraduate. "

However, it goes much further than creating robots and programming them, also encouraging humanistic cohesion in the group, what is so often forgotten when we talk about technology.

It is common for an educational robotics training to include a challenge, so that students can solve it with materials such as: mechanical parts, sensors, actuators and embedded systems. These materials, complemented with computer tools, allow working on solutions to the challenge. In this way, not only is there a theoretical learning process, but also a practical one, through a series of phases, very similar to those applied in the design of automated solutions for the commercial and industrial market: Analysis, design, construction, programming, testing, documentation and presentation or delivery. Depending on the age and real interest of students, it is possible to dive more in the complexity of these phases, getting from the most basic to the most complex, always from an entertaining and motivating point of view.

Many times this educational training can be complemented with other competitions between teams, from the same center, from other centers or independent teams, organized well by educational centers, companies or other institutions, in order to promote STEM talent (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and identify innovative solutions in the field of robotics.

Educational robotics empower in the students, future researchers and business people, a series of competencies, awakening in many cases relevant vocations.

Fortunately, educational robotics is taken seriously in many developed countries, being part not only of curricular programs of educational centers, but also of extra curricular training offers (training centers, academies, etc.).

Also it is clearly a business, as the $1.3 billion international robotics education market in 2019 is set to grow to $3.1 billion by 2025, according to findings by market research firm HolonIQ

roboticsinvestments
Source: HolonIQ

As Vicepresident of HISPAROB, Spanish technological platform for robotics,  I have to say that we take educational robotics very seriously, as a way to empower talent and scientific-technological knowledge in current and future generations. Among our theme clusters, we have one about Educational Robotics, formed by 26 entities (manufacturers, distributors, training centers, etc.) highly active, seeking collaboration and cohesion of efforts so that robotics reaches not only the brain, but also to the soul of people. That is why at HISPAROB we are greatly grateful for the effort of this group, a reference in Spain and we encourage other groups and teams worldwide to continue helping robotics to reach the people with passion.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Global Robot Cluster (GRC) The biggest Cluster of Clusters


On November 2019, I had the fortune and responsibility to represent Hisparob and Spain in the General Assembly of Global Robot Cluster (GRC) in South Korea, invited by the Daegyeong Robot Enterprise Association (REPA) and financially supported by the Government of Daegu in South Korea.

REPA, starts in 2017 the initiative to form the Global Robot Cluster (GRC) together with three other countries, as an entity that intends to represent most of the countries in the world, under the objective of promoting exchange and collaboration in the field of robotics.

In Nov 2019, eleven countries became part of the GRC: 


By 2020 Thailand and Denmark may also join the GRC.


GRC members. 2019

GRC is a great initiative and I strongly recommend clusters of different countries to join as members. We live in a Global world and most countries in the world have already learned from previous crises the importance of being part of this Global World, to expand opportunities. 

Hisparob in Spain tries to help to facilitate this step by promoting international relations for the benefit of our partners and the progress of robotics in our country and in the world.

I want to express a special recognition to GRC, REPA, the Government of the city of Daegu in South Korea and the Spanish companies Dahn Ghun and GR-EX for contributing in one way or other to facilitate this great opportunity for our associates and for our country.

Alejandro Alonso Puig
Vice President HISPAROB

Sunday, November 24, 2019

The 8th Edition of Daegu Robot Expo (South Korea)

November 2019 has been the date for this edition of Daegu Robot expo, where we saw a variety of robots, mainly anthropomorphic, although we saw some few professional drones, UGVs, educational robots and parts.



  • Between the professional drones we saw a huge engine drone, a quadcopter with fuel combustion engine from ATD Lab.
  • Also a  fixed wing drone  from Joydrone, with vertical take off and landing
  • Man&Robot co ltd showed Automatic Screw Assembly Machine Using Cooperative Robot.
  • Ruben offered 3D vision guided robotics and Bin picking system based on Fanuc robots
  • Stäubli showed their well known robot arms as well as their Stäubli Robotics Suit of software
  • Educational robots company, distributed in Spain by Dahn Ghun company
  • Also we saw some smart 3d printers, using either PLA or ABS for non industrial creations.
  • Wego showed Ugvs mainly, from Clearpath as well as developed by wego. 
  • Einbot showed a deep learning visual inspection robot sorting solution
  • Oto Robotics showed their industrial articulated robots OTR-6 and OTR-20. 6 axis pick and place robot and 6 axis welding robot.
  • Woelsung TMP manufacturer of robots for testing and handling radioactive materials, showed one of their telemanipulators for handling of radioactive materials, drug production, nuclear applications including testing, medical applications, and pharmacy.
  • Hyundai robotics showed their huge clean robot for LCD glass screens manipulation as well as a variety of Industrial robots
  • Daiso cell. Showed their force sensors, torque sensors and load cells.
  • DGM Tech showed their rehabilitation exoskeleton
  • Yaskawa showed their general industrial robot solutions.
  • Sensor Solution showed some sennors for measuring displacement, preasure and torque.
  • and last but not least, Kuka showed one of their industrial robots

This was all from the 8th Edition of Daegu Robot Expo in South Korea.

by Alejandro Alonso Puig

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Is Amazon AWS Robomaker worth it?

Amazon released AWS Robomaker last year (2018) as a service that makes it easy to create robotics applications at scale. But, what does it mean and how this could help us in our developments and release of real products?


The product

AWS RoboMaker nowadays is focused on extending the Robot Operating System (ROS) framework with cloud services. [1].

AWS Robomaker service suite includes nowadays (2019) the following components:

  • Cloud Extensions for ROS: With them, it is possible to offload some resource-intensive computing processes that are used in robotics applications to the cloud and free up local compute resources. These extensions allows to integrate with AWS services like Amazon Kinesis Video Streams for video streaming, Amazon Rekognition for image and video analysis, Amazon Lex for speech recognition, Amazon Polly for speech generation, and Amazon CloudWatch for logging and monitoring. RoboMaker provides each of these cloud service extensions as open source ROS packages, so it is possible to build functions on the robot by taking advantage of cloud APIs[2]. Having said that, obviously AWS charges fees per usage of the cloud services. This seems to be the business model of AWS Robomaker for Amazon.
  • Development Environment, based on AWS Cloud9, so it is possible to launch a dedicated workspace to edit, run, and debug robotics application code. RoboMaker's development environment includes the operating system, development software, and ROS automatically downloaded, compiled, and configured. Plus, RoboMaker cloud extensions and sample robotics applications are pre-integrated in the environment.
  • Simulation system based on Gazebo, that supports large scale and parallel simulations, and automatically scales the underlying infrastructure based on the complexity of the simulation.
  • Fleet Management service allows over-the-air deployment to deploy a robotics application into a robot fleet securely, so updates could be easily deployed in a full fleet or part of a fleet of robots.

(C) Amazon AWS Robomaker


Observations

The product sounds really interesting, but let's consider the following goods and bads from my personal point of view:

  • One of the interesting things of being cloud based is that it could be used for development from anywhere, without the need to have ROS installed in the developers PC. This is a good starting point, but this is not usually a preferred long term solutions for developers, who use their preferred IDEs and tools for static code analysis. Anyway you could always use your IDE and tools and use only AWS cloud services.
  • This solution support ROS Kinetic and Melody, the latest two long term support versions of ROS1, also it supports ROS2.
  • Cloud extensions are really interesting. Having the capacity to run powerful computer vision algorithms in a massive computational environment in a transparent way is definitely a good option. The same happens with the other cloud based services offered by AWS. But you have to keep in mind that you need to ensure a reliable communications channel if your dependency to the cloud services is critical to your specific application to work properly. 
  • It is very interesting that AWS Robomaker is always considering the idea of a fleet, so simulations and services could be used for the full set of robots.
  • One of the things I really like is the option to deploy updated OTA (Over-the-air) to one or more robots in a fleet. Imagine you have 10 robots installed in a customer. If you update all of them in a shot may be risky. With this service you could update just one, then three and after everything is ok, then the rest, easily, with no headaches. 
  • One of the things I like of the cloud services offered by AWS is that you pay per use, so you may even charge to customers based on this model in case you offer a robot-as-service business model
  • You also could have cloud based metrics of the robots, so you could do preventive maintenance or monitoring.
  • About the simulations, definitely developers could create much more powerful simulations in AWS Robomaker than if they have Gazebo simulator locally installed in their top notch powerful PCs, as AWS offer expandable computing power. This is just a question of how much computing power you need and how much money you are prepared to pay.
  • About real product applications, nowadays I see that there is a risk on the dependency for reliable wifi connection. If your application depends on it, you need to implement alternative ways of communications, so you may need to implement a solution that switches from wifi to 4G in case wifi fails or degrade.
  • Last thing is that somehow using AWS you need to accept that you are creating a dependency to these services, so you will not be easily able to implement other similar solutions with on-board computing in the future. Anyway, Amazon looks to be a good partner for a long term relationship.
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Reference:

[1] What is AWS Robomaker: https://docs.aws.amazon.com/en_pv/robomaker/latest/dg/what-is-robomaker.html
[2]AWS Robomaker web page: https://aws.amazon.com/robomaker  

Monday, September 30, 2019

Is ROS ready for industry?


Recently I published my latest book “ROS Programming with Python” in Amazon. Some people asked me free promotional units of the book (just email me if you want yours), but what was really interesting was to find people very reluctant to ROS, saying it is just for education and not for the real Industry. I think ROS is starting to offer interesting options for Industry, but to evaluate that we need to know in advance that there are three different approaches of ROS: ROS 1, ROS 2 and ROS Industrial. Let me briefly explore them:


ROS 1

The Robot Operating System (ROS) is a flexible framework for writing robot software. It is a collection of tools, libraries, and conventions that aim to simplify the task of creating complex and robust robot behaviour across a wide variety of robotic platforms.

ROS 1 born as a solution for single robots, the PR2 from Willow Garage, although it was designed to be used in a variety of robots with no real time requirements.

Today we see ROS used not only on the PR2 and robots that are similar to the PR2, but also on wheeled robots of all sizes, legged humanoids, industrial arms, outdoor ground vehicles (including self-driving cars), aerial vehicles, surface vehicles, and more.

ROS 1 is nowadays the approach of ROS that most people knows, with several releases, being the last LTS versions (Long Term Support) Kinetic and Melodic. In fact, when you talk nowadays about ROS, it is widely accepted that you really are talking about ROS 1.


ROS Industrial

ROS-Industrial (or ROS-I) was created in 2012 to develop collaboration between ROS and the industry. 

ROS-Industrial is an open-source project that extends the advanced capabilities of ROS software to manufacturing.

ROS capabilities, such as advanced perception and path/grasp planning, can enable manufacturing robotic applications that were previously technically infeasible or cost prohibitive.

ROS-Industrial is released under the business-friendly BSD and Apache 2.0 licenses.

With ROS-I, BMW Group Logistics was able to incorporate several different sensors into their STR to enable sensor fusion within each mobile robot. ROS-I allows the different hardware and sensors contained within the vehicle to communicate with each other, and also allows the robot to communicate with different IoT solutions. BMW uses a cloud-based operating platform for central coordination of the STRs.

BMW, Microsoft and Open Robotics on an automation solution using ROS-I


ROS 2

ROS 2 was first introduced in 2014 in ROSCON 2014 conference. ROS two is not a new version of ROS, but a new promising approach, with different releases, that is much more prepared for the Industry than ROS 1.

Robotics and business evolution asked for new use cases that were not considered when ROS 1 was designed and were the reason of creating a new approach of ROS: ROS 2. Some of these use cases are, as described by Brian Gerkey, CEO of Open Robotics and former Director of Open Source Development at Willow Garage:

  • Teams of multiple robots: while it is possible to build multi-robot systems using ROS 1, there is no standard approach, and they are all somewhat of a hack on top of the single-master structure of ROS 1. In the other hand, ROS 2 is designed as a distributed system for single or multiple robots, not depending on a Master and replacing the messaging layer to rely on DDS (Data Distribution Services).
  • Real-time systems: we want to support real-time control directly in ROS, including inter-process and inter-machine communication (assuming appropriate operating system and/or hardware support). While ROS 1 is not designed for Real time, ROS 2 could work in real time while using RTOS. 
  • Non-ideal networks: we want ROS to behave as well as is possible when network connectivity degrades due to loss and/or delay, from poor-quality WiFi to ground-to-space communication links. ROS 2 is designed for this approach while not ROS 1.
  • Production environments: while it is vital that ROS continue to be the platform of choice in the research lab, we want to ensure that ROS-based lab prototypes can evolve into ROS-based products suitable for use in real-world applications.


WHAT ROS APPROACH THEN?

The rivalry may be more between ROS 1 and ROS 2, considering ROS-I definitely more for Industrial robots and manipulators.

I like the recommendation given on July 2019 by Dan Rose and Nick Fragale from Rover Robotics with help from Open Robotics:


DemographicDescription of userAdvice
StudentsThose who are just learning to use ROSStick with ROS 1 for now. Many of the concepts in ROS 1 and ROS 2 are the same so learning ROS 1 will help you to learn ROS 2 later on.
ProfessorsThose teaching ROSKeep teaching ROS 1 for now but start thinking about curriculum for ROS 2. There are many entities interested in helping to develop curriculum for ROS 2 including Rover Robotics so you don’t have to go at it alone
ResearchersThose using ROS to publish papersUnless your paper is specifically to show off using ROS 2 our advice is to stick with ROS 1 for the time being.
Large CompaniesThose who are in R&D groups funded by a large corporate entityStrongly consider ROS 2 to reduce the amount of technical debt in the future. Put people with experience with ROS 1 on the project.
New Robotics StartupsThose who are thinking about starting a robotics companyStrongly consider ROS 2 to reduce the amount of technical debt in the future. Hire people with experience with ROS 1.
Existing Robotics StartupsThose working at a robotics startup that’s either using ROS 1 or not using ROS at all.This is the hardest group to offer advice to. It really depends on where you are at with your startup. Keep an ear to the ground on ROS 2, at some point you will want to switch but it will be like ripping off a band-aid.
Robotics OEMThose who make either robots, sensors for robots, or anything that needs a ROS driverNow is a good time to switch. ROS 2 Dashing is the first LTS release so its now safe for OEMs to start porting drivers without fear of new features that will break functionality. Additionally we have seen large companies like Amazon, Intel, and Microsoft devote significant resources towards ROS 2 development.



COMPANIES USING OR SUPPORTING ROS

Some Companies Using ROS: NASA, BMW, Clearpath Robotics, Fetch Robotics, Pal Robotics, Robotnik, Yujin Robots, Robotis, Shadow Robot, Husarion, Neobotix, Gaitech, Sony, Ubiquity Robotics, Open Robotics, Rover Robotics, DJI, Infinium Robotics, etc.

ROS-I is supported by an international Consortium of industry and research members: ROS Industrial Consortium. ROS Industrial Consortium includes companies such as ABB, Airbus, Bosch, BMW, IFM, Intel, Pepperl+Fuchs, Siemens, Universal Robots, Yaskawa and much more.

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