alessandro di fava

What's new with robotics R&D? Alessandro di Fava give us the keys

One of the competitive values of Robotnik is its long trajectory not only as a manufacturer of mobile robotics, but also as part of more than 60 European research and development projects in robotics.

The Spanish company’s mobile robots and manipulators play a leading role in various projects focused on different sectors: inspection, logistics, agriculture, health or emergency and rescue among others.
Alessandro di Fava, project manager at Robotnik, talks about technological innovation, what these projects bring to the robotics sector and other developments in this interview.

R&D robotics projects are a particular field.
Why we as Robotnik are involved in R&D projects? Let’s see what R & D projects like the European projects can bring into the robotics sector and for society in general.


ADF:  My name is Alessandro Di Fava, I’m project manager in Robotnik.

Alessandro Di Fava

Currently I’m involved in 4 European projects that are part of the Horizon 2020 program: 5G-ERA, ODIN, BACCHUS and PROMEN-AID.

Inside those projects, our goal is to provide mobile robots and also develop some improved technologies that increase our AMR applications. I’m talking, for example, about the use of artificial intelligence in robotics or about robots and 5G.

5G and robotics

ADF: 5G brings some features that enhance the communications among different devices. One of the good things of 5G is that on the network you can run some specific functions reducing problems like delayed or latency.

I know it sounds like very technical terms but it can actually be understood with simple examples. 5G and robotics bring many new possibilities.

I know it sounds like very technical terms but it can actually be understood with simple examples. 5G and robotics bring many new possibilities.

Until now, when you have to communicate between devices with existing communications (wireless, 4G, etc.), in many cases the information doesn’t arrive in time.
Imagine a team of firefighters having to control a robot in real time in an emergency situation, for example. They need fast information to make quick decisions, as the success of the mission depends in part on there being no communication delays.

I can also tell you that Robotnik is already marketing the first 5G robots.

What does 5G imply for robots?

As Alessandro says, for collaborative robots, 5G offers a framework that will allow us to make significant advances based mainly on 3 aspects: low latency, massive M2M (mass communication between remote machines) and IoT.
All disruptive technologies – AI, IoT or augmented reality – are now empowered by the implementation of a 5G connection.

5G robots:

  • High bandwidth: required for data, video and audio streams, both for telecontrol and for cloud or edge processing.
  • Low latency and guaranteed latency: this opens up the possibility of teleoperation (and telepresence) to previously impossible levels. It also enables centralised fleet control, reducing computational needs on robots.
  • Cloud computing: the robot does not have to have large processing capabilities, it can rely on AI algorithms or sensor processing in the cloud, allowing for a cheaper, more versatile and easier to install product, cheaper and with lower energy consumption..
  • Much fluid and higher quality teleoperation.

This development is a major boost for intelligent automation. On the road to Smart Factories, the 5G connection integrated into our mobile platforms opens up an unprecedented range of possibilities in production environments: interconnection between robots and replicas with the digital twin, greater personalisation of applications, cloud computing or greater use of Artificial Intelligence systems.

What do you think is the main benefit for a robotics company of participating in R&D projects?

ADF: We manufacture indoor or outdoor mobile robots that can be used in different sectors: agriculture, healthcare, inspection and surveillance, logistics… and we as a company with 20 years of experience in the sector, must ensure certain guarantees to our customers. Guarantees that our mobile robots have indeed been tested and will perform as expected in a specific environment, often sharing tasks with humans.

In that European R&D robotics projects we can test some applications with all the scenarios and infrastructure that a big project offers you and then, after the 2, 3 or more years of duration of each project, you can go to the customer and say: okey, that mobile robot is available to this or that applications in this or that sectors.

That’s why, the participation in this kind of projects brings benefits for the robotic providers but also for the final customers and ender users.

Imagine a hospital use case. Until now, the nurses are doing many general time-consuming jobs like bringing material, papers, documents from one side to another inside the hospital, that means less time to do their real work.

Robontik AMR working on R&D projects

We have some of our AMR like RB-1 BASE or RB-THERON, working in hospitals and doing that kind of logistics tasks.

But, how have we come to verify that these robots are safe to work with people inside a hospital?

Robotnik as a company has to prove that it is possible and reliable for our AMRs to work safely inside hospitals… okey, we develop the necessary mobile robots, integrate the required technology, etc. But we don’t have a hospital with patients to make the necessary demos.

So H2020 gives us the opportunity to validate and improve applications in real-life scenarios.
This is one of the main advantages of participating in big R&D projects: we work with several partners and each of us contributes in a different way, thus making possible a real experimental framework that would otherwise be impossible.

 

Alessandro di Fava has more than 10 years of experience in the field of robotics. He started his PhD at the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, based in Pisa, Italy, and continued with work experiences at two robotics service platform providers in Spain. I have participated in several EU-funded research and innovation projects in collaboration with a consortium of European universities and industrial partners. Currently, he is R&D project manager at Robotnik.


aplicaciones roboticas en agricultura

Robotics applications in agriculture

Innovation in terms of robotics applications in agriculture has advanced considerably in the last 5 years.

The objective of agricultural robotics is to help the sector in its efficiency and in the profitability of the processes. In other words, mobile robotics works in the agricultural sector to improve productivity, specialization and environmental sustainability.

Labor shortages, increased consumer demand and high production costs are some of the factors that have accelerated automation in this sector, with the aim of reducing costs and optimizing harvests.

Did you know that up to 99% of phytosanitary products are currently wasted because they cover the entire field? Agricultural robotics is capable, for example, of spraying pesticides only to the plants that need them. This is just one example of how very concrete benefits can be seen in sectors that are traditionally not very automated.

 

The incorporation of robotics in agriculture improves both productivity and working conditions for farmers and workers. Intelligent systems are becoming the ideal solution to drive precision agriculture. Today, a large number of agricultural operations are already being done autonomously.

Thus, collaborative robots are now commonly used in fruit harvesting or insect grafting and cultivation, where Artificial Intelligence provides predictive data to optimize farms and plantations.

 

Types of robots used in agriculture

These are some applications of robotics in agriculture for which Robotnik robots are used:

  • Crop condition identification and corresponding chemical application, spraying or harvesting, as required by the fruit or plant.
  • Mobile manipulation through collaborative arms (harvesting, fruit handling).
  • Collection and conversion of useful information for the farmer.
  • Selective application of pesticides.
  • Selection to avoid food waste

 

R&D for agricultural robotics

Since 2002, Robotnik has participated in more than 60 research projects, most of them at European level. Currently, some 30 projects of different nature are underway: some with objectives oriented to logistics, others to the health sector or also to the agri-food sector, among others. This makes it possible to use intelligent, autonomous and collaborative mobile robots that enable the creation of more efficient industrial processes with a better use of resources, which translates into higher productivity in general.

Examples of agriculture robotics R&D projects in which Robotnik is involved:

BACCHUS: Mobile Robotic Platforms for Active Inspection and Harvesting in Agricultural Areas.

BACCHUS intelligent mobile robotic system promises to replicate manual harvesting operations, while eliminating manual labor by operating autonomously on four different levels:

  • The robot autonomously navigates to inspect crops and collect data from the agricultural area through its integrated sensor system.
  • The robot performs bi-manual harvesting operations with the finesse required by the environment.
  • Additive manufacturing is employed to adjust the robot gripper to the geometry of different crops.
  • Presentation of advanced cognitive capabilities and decision-making skills.

agriculture robot

This R&D project employs the RB-VOGUI autonomous mobile robot with two fully integrated arms. The platform is used to develop a solution for grape harvesting in vineyards.

AGROBOFOOD: Digital transformation of the European agri-food sector through the adoption of robotic technologies.

Through robotics applications in agriculture, it aims to accelerate the digital transformation of the European agri-food sector. It will consolidate, expand and strengthen the current ecosystem by establishing a sustainable network of DIHs (Digital Innovation Hubs).
Robotnik is leading the experiment based on the SUMMIT-XL outdoor mobile platform, which is equipped with a series of sensors that will be used to collect information from the environment of an olive grove to maximize the olive yield.

 

COROSECT: Cognitive robotic system for digitized insect farms.

Agricultural robotic application to optimize insect production facilities as a possible solution to the environmental impact of high meat consumption.

The project will use state-of-the-art robotic equipment and artificial intelligence technologies to automate production. The project focuses on the idea of setting up dynamic work cells, where a single human worker will be assisted by several robots equipped with artificial intelligence algorithms and intelligent sensors at different stages of insect production.


Aplicaciones roboticas en medicina

Applications of robotics in medicine

The incorporation of robotics in healthcare environments is becoming increasingly common. Currently, task automation is adapted to any sector and robotics in medicine is frequently used thanks, in part, to the evolution of technologies such as 5G, AI or augmented reality.

The use of robots in hospitals has become a mainstay for the healthcare sector, especially in recent times. Robotics applications in medicine, and in hospitals in particular, have experienced a definite boost in the fight against COVID-19.

Mobile robotics applications have also become tools that greatly improve the quality of life and provide autonomy to dependent people.
Mobile robots can even be adapted to robotic or motorized shower systems for people with functional disabilities to enable them to shower on their own by giving commands to the robot.

Collaborative mobile robots can also become excellent hospital assistants, providing support in operating rooms, ICUs or risky areas for the healthcare team

What is the use of robots in hospitals? What kind of robots are being used in medicine?

Collaborative robotics applied to the healthcare sector is an excellent tool that greatly improves the quality of life and provides autonomy to dependent people. Collaborative mobile robots, for example, can be adapted to robotic or motorized shower systems for people with functional disabilities, allowing them to shower on their own by giving commands to the robot.

We are also talking about advantages such as administrative support, early detection of certain diseases, predictive systems or patient monitoring.

Types of robots in hospitals

Some of the tasks in the health sector for which Robotnik robots are used would be:

  • Food transport and supply support.
  • Cleaning or disinfection tasks.
  • Storage and distribution of medicines.
  • Surgical assistance.
  • Administrative and logistical tasks that are routine and burden the healthcare workers.
  • Tele-assistance.

 

robot móvil en hospital

R&D for healthcare robotics

Since 2002, Robotnik has participated in more than 60 research projects, most of them at European level. Currently, some 30 projects of different nature are underway: some with objectives oriented to logistics, others to the health sector or also to the agri-food sector, among others. This makes it possible to use intelligent, autonomous and collaborative mobile robots that enable the creation of more efficient industrial processes with a better use of resources, which translates into higher productivity in general.

Examples of robotics R&D projects in medicine in which Robotnik participates:

PHARAON: Pilots for healthy and active aging.

PHARAON aims to contribute to improving the aging conditions of the European population by creating a set of open and customizable platforms with advanced services, devices and tools including IoT, artificial intelligence, robotics, cloud computing, smart devices, Big Data and intelligent analytics.

Robotnik will provide its mobile platforms so that they can be used in the pilots, in addition to assisting with the integration of the technology developed within the project. These robots will be tested in various hospitals in Europe.

pharaon

 

ENDORSE: Robotic fleet for logistics applications in healthcare and commercial spaces.

Indoor spaces such as hospitals, hotels and offices offer great potential for the commercial exploitation of logistics robotics. Four pillars of innovation are being pursued in this project:

  • Multi-robot navigation without infrastructure, i.e., minimal (if any) installation of sensors and communication buses inside the building for locating robots, targets and docking stations.
  • Advanced HRI to resolve deadlocks and achieve efficient sharing of spatial resources in crowded spaces.
    Implementation of ENDORSE software as a cloud-based service that facilitates integration with corporate software solutions such as ERP, CRM, etc.
  • Reconfigurable and modular hardware architectures so that various modules can be easily interchanged.
  • Robotnik will develop the modular hardware interfaces that will support the Robotnik RB-1 BASE mobile robot, so that different functional modules can be easily interchanged.

rb-1 base

 

ODIN: Transforming the future of healthcare in Europe's hospitals through AI.

This project addresses 11 hospital care challenges by seeking solutions that combine robotics, IoT and AI.
In this case, the application of robotics in hospitals is a support to real problems faced every day by healthcare staff. For example:

  • Autonomous and collaborative robots can reduce the workload of overburdened hospital staff.
  • Optimizing resources through shared data collection.
  • Increased patient and staff safety through tools and robots that avoid exposure to hazardous areas.
  • Reducing unnecessary hospital stays through the latest technologies in IoT support services and rehabilitation robots, increasing hospital planning possibilities.

 


Robotics applications in construction

Robotics applications in construction

The construction sector is one of the largest in the global economy. However, it is one of the slowest to start the path towards automation and digitization and, therefore, the integration of robotics in construction has been late compared to other sectors. This is due to multiple factors such as the cost of labor or the lack of planning in the processes.

Robotnik develops and manufactures AMRs that facilitate automation and the potential of construction robots give the ultimate push towards Industry 4.0.

Autonomous mobile robotics offers multiple benefits and construction robotics are already integrated in several areas: architecture, masonry, demolition, infrastructure... Some of the tasks that demand more AMR is safety and inspection, which uses technology to review and detect possible errors in real time and send the information to the system so that it can be corrected as soon as possible.

Increased accuracy, significantly increased productivity, reduced errors, meeting deadlines, reduced number of accidents and reduced costs are just some of the improvements that robotics brings to the construction industry.

Robotnik is currently working on several R&D projects whose objectives and efforts are aimed at boosting construction through mobile robotics and other cutting-edge technologies, testing real-world applications.

Types of construction robots

These are some applications of robotics in the construction industry for which Robotnik robots are used:

  • Prediction of required tasks.
  • Evaluation of the progress of a project.
  • Early detection of possible errors.
  • Automation of dangerous tasks for the operators.
  • Surveillance and inspection tasks.

R&D for robots in the construction industry

Since 2002, Robotnik has participated in more than 60 research projects, most of them at European level. Currently, some 30 projects of different nature are underway: some with logistics-oriented objectives, others in the health sector or construction, among others. This makes it possible to use intelligent, autonomous and collaborative mobile robots. And so that, the creation of more efficient industrial processes with a better use of resources, which translates into higher productivity in general.

Examples of construction robotics R&D projects in which Robotnik participates

HERON: Enhanced robotic platform for performing road maintenance and improvement works.

The objective is to develop an automated and integrated system to perform road maintenance and improvement tasks such as crack sealing, pothole patching, asphalt rejuvenation, autonomous replacement of CUD elements or marking painting.

It also provides pre- and post-intervention support, including visual inspections and automated and controlled dispensing and removal of traffic cones.

Within the project, Robotnik will design and develop an intelligent unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) capable of performing the necessary inspection and maintenance actions and will make the necessary adaptations to the robotic vehicle, not only those related to road maintenance capabilities with a collaborative arm and different equipment, but also those concerning the integration of other ΗΕRΟΝ developments into the prototype (sensor integration, UAV transport system, etc.).

PILOTING: Robotic solutions for pilots in refineries, bridges/viaducts and tunnels.

The current European refineries and civil infrastructures, such as tunnels and bridges, are undergoing a logical aging process that leads to their gradual deterioration.

PILOTING will set up large scale pilots in real industrial environments to respond directly to the main inspection and maintenance challenges. These demos are focused on improving coverage and enhance, decreasing cost and time of operations, improving inspection quality and increasing operator safety.

Robotnik is responsible for the development of the ground robotic platforms to be used in the refinery and tunneling use cases with the RISING mobile manipulator and the RB-CAR autonomous mobile robot.

inspection robot

BIMPROVE is another case of application of robotics in the construction industry. This H2020 project aims to help European industry embark on the digital transformation, leveraging Digital Twin technology to move construction sites towards Industry 4.0.

Robotnik is responsible for the development of a pioneering new autonomous mobile robot based on the SUMMIT-XL to collect indoor and outdoor environmental information on construction sites. This information will be fed into the BIMsync tool, where it will be processed and transformed into useful decision-making information.
In this way, Robotnik will develop the ground data acquisition system (route planning, localisation and positioning, safety aspects and human-machine interaction).

summit-xl


angel soriano

Interview to Ángel Soriano, manager of R&D projects at Robotnik

Ángel Soriano is the manager of several R&D projects at Robotnik Automation, the leading Spanish company in collaborative mobile robotics.

For more than 5 years, Ángel, who holds a PhD in Automation, Robotics and Industrial Informatics, has been in charge of proposal writing, development and management of several European H2020 projects.

angel soriano

In this talk he tells us about some of the new developments in research in the field of mobile robotics or the close relationship between the work in R&D and the manufacture of robots and mobile manipulators in Robotnik. This is how collaborative mobile robotics is providing solutions today.

R&D Projects

Q. At Robotnik you dedicate a large part of your efforts to R&D work through projects that require mobile robotics solutions.
What value do you consider that R&D projects bring to the robotics sector?

A. These projects play a decisive role for the sector and drive research from the two most important points of view: on the one hand, the researcher who develops the technology beyond the current state of the art and, on the other hand, the industry or party interested in applying this technology in each specific use case is directly involved.
This synergy, created from the beginning of the project, directs and orients the research towards results that are tangible, demonstrable and applicable for the industry and interesting for the further evolution of the autonomous mobile robotics sector.

Q. At the moment, what are the European R&D projects that you coordinate within Robotnik?

A. At Robotnik we are involved in about 30 R&D projects of different nature where we are mainly in charge of the development of robotic platforms and related technology. I personally, participate in the development of several of the projects that Robotnik has open, most of them are European projects within the H2020 framework, but I am in charge of coordinating 4 of them:

FASTER: the objective is to address a series of challenges that arise in dangerous situations for human teams working in emergencies. It is a project oriented to offer and apply new technologies such as aerial and ground robots for rescue operations carried out by emergency teams in cases such as earthquakes, floods or closed buildings.

faster
RB-CAR | FASTER

ODIN: this project is oriented to the integration of technologies for hospital services, mainly through Artificial Intelligence. Here, autonomous mobile robots will provide services ranging from logistics support to interaction with patients and staff.

BACCHUS: we have seen how the incorporation of mobile robotics in agriculture has made significant progress in recent years. BACCHUS seeks to automate high-precision selective harvesting by means of mobile manipulation robotics, trying to imitate the same mechanics performed by an operator, i.e., using two coordinated arms for harvesting.

ODYSSEUS: this is one of the most recent projects we have entered into and is still at a very early stage. It is a safety project aimed at detecting gases or highly explosive elements through the use of sensorized UGVs specifically for this purpose.

 

Q. Autonomous mobile robots play a key role in all these projects. Tell us about some of the Robotnik robots involved and what exactly they contribute.

A. The RB-CAR in FASTER is a vehicle oriented for outdoor rescue operations that can navigate autonomously by GPS to explore unknown areas, create in real time a 3D map of the environment and stream the different sensors it incorporates -thermal camera, stereo camera or 3D Lidar- to the control station where the vehicle operator would be located. In addition, it can accommodate two crew members and can be driven manually.

One of the features is that the vehicle initially stores a secure GPS position, where the control station would be installed, and can be driven while testing the environment. Once something of interest is found, the driver gets out of the vehicle to attend to the situation in question and can send the autonomous robot back to the safe position where it started, i.e. acting as a mule vehicle transporting materials from one point to another.

SUMMIT-XL is another of the autonomous robots participating in FASTER.  Being a smaller vehicle than the RB-CAR, it is oriented towards indoor exploration, although it has also been used in outdoor scenarios. The SUMMIT-XL also offers autonomous GPS navigation and 3D mapping while streaming video from the built-in thermal and steerable RGB cameras.

SUMMIT-XL
SUMMIT-XL | FASTER

At ODIN we use the RB-1 BASE platform. It is one of the indoor mobile robots in charge of moving autonomously around the hospital for transporting goods, monitoring instruments or interacting with staff.

We also have the RB-VOGUI XL robot at BACCHUS which is a bi-arm robot, the RISING at ODYSSEUS....

 

Q. You mentioned that since 2002 Robotnik has been part of more than 60 research projects at the European level. What are the main challenges facing mobile robotics/manipulation in these R&D projects?

A. Autonomous robotics advances as its technological context does. Right now we are in a super interesting moment where 5G, Artificial Intelligence, augmented reality or 3D navigation, for example, allow important progress for robotics. 

In my opinion, these are the 3 main challenges we are facing in project development:

  • Dynamic and unpredictable environments. This is one of the most critical factors when offering a solution applicable to different scenarios or use cases. Here, mobile robotics goes hand in hand with AI.
  • Sensing technology is advancing rapidly but does not yet offer solutions with the precision required for some applications.
  • The technology transition gap between the research community and end users. It is complicated today to offer products or results of these projects that are within the reach of the knowledge and usability of a non-expert user in the field. There is still a long way to go to relax the usability gap between the technology provider and the end user.

By sectors

Q. Collaborative robotics applications have become a determining factor for the growth of companies in different sectors. For example, what is the contribution of robotics in the logistics sector?

A. In indoor logistics, the autonomous organization of warehouses and the internal transport of goods is the order of the day. In addition, the innovation lies in the fact that mobile vehicles that used to move along a fixed track within an assembly line, e.g. Autonomous Guided Vehicles (AGVs), are now Autonomous Mobile Vehicles as developed and manufactured by Robotnik, so they can move freely on the ground, can modify their trajectory and offer greater flexibility. This means that the customer does not need to modify the environment or install anything in particular to do so.

In this field, the fleet of heterogeneous robots that can autonomously coordinate with each other to perform tasks optimally is one of the most in-vogue research at the moment.

RB-1 BASE

One of the most popular robots aimed at indoor environments is the RB-1 BASE. A differential robot that can navigate autonomously moving shelves or goods with a payload of up to 50 kg.

Outdoor logistics is where we find the greatest advances in recent years in terms of the application of mobile robotics. We can already see in operation applications oriented to the last mile -such as AUDERE- with autonomous robots transporting goods or packages during the last part of the route or short journeys for tasks such as picking up garbage, delivering packages, picking up fruits...

The RB-VOGUI platform is one of the most widely used mobile robots in outdoor logistics. It can navigate autonomously and, with a manipulator arm mounted on top of the base, it is able to interact with objects in the environment, picking up garbage from the ground or samples of interest. 

There are other topics, such as road freight transport, where there is still some way to go, although it is true that research is working on it, so results will certainly be obtained in the near future. 

AUDERE
RB-VOGUI | AUDERE

 

Q. And what about the security and defense sector?

A. In this case, robotics tries to offer tools that mitigate the dangers faced by people working in these sectors with two main ideas. On the one hand, sending the robot to the critical scenario first rather than the human, basically because if something goes wrong, it affects the robot and not the human. And on the other hand, to work in the affected area trying not to contaminate it.

 

Q. You also mentioned earlier the great advances that have been made in the agricultural sector.

A. Automation in the agricultural sector is not really new, there are many large machines, trucks, tractors with specialized machinery for harvesting fruits and vegetables.

But the results of these machines cannot be compared with the work done by the operators who are specialized in the field. The operator knows just by looking at the fruit if it is ready to be picked or if it needs more time to be riper. Or which grape is the best for wine production.
This is the birth of precision agriculture in which robotics offers many advantages.
Apart from the obvious advantages such as working without human supervision or working at night, the main idea is to provide autonomous robots with the ability to identify, as humans do, the best option to act with the environment.

As I said before, within the BACCHUS project, the RB-VOGUI XL mounts two manipulator arms to harvest autonomously as a human would. Using one arm as the hand that holds the scissors and cuts the bunch and in the other the final effect that has to act as a hand, picking up the whole bunch.

RB-VOGUI XL | BACCHUS

Ángel Soriano has participated, presented and defended papers in several national robotics conferences such as the annual Jornadas de Automática organized by the Comisión Española de Automática (CEA), and international conferences such as the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) or The World Congress of the International Federation of Automatic Control (IFAC), among others. Author of book chapters in Advances on Practical Applications of Agents and Multi-Agent Systems and Distributed Computing and Artificial Intelligence. Author and co-author of several articles published in high impact international journals such as Robotics and Autonomous Systems, IEEE/ASME Transactions on Mechatronics or Sensors. He has been a researcher at the Polytechnic University of Valencia for more than 5 years, associated with several research projects of the national plan of the Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness. He has been a senior technician in the Robotics Laboratory of the Institute of Automation and Industrial Informatics of the Polytechnic City of Innovation and has been an associate professor at the Department of Systems Engineering and Automation of the Polytechnic University of Valencia for more than 2 years. 


robot safety

All that Robotics brings to Security & Rescue

  • Robotnik is currently involved in 5 projects focused on the security and rescue sectors.

Robotnik focuses a significant part of its work and resources on R&D projects related to the automation and digitalization of industry through robotic applications

Since 2002, Robotnik has been involved in more than 60 projects, most of them at European level and others at local level,

30 projects are currently on progress, each of them of different nature: some of them with objectives oriented to logistics, health sector, or agri-food, among others.

This post compiles 5 of the open robotics projects related to public safety and rescue. 

R&D in Europe

One of Europe's main challenges is to promote research and development within companies, as it is the key to the competitiveness and productivity of each economic sector in the long term. For this reason, there are official funding programmes such as Horizon 2020 that provide support in this regard.

In particular, R&D in robotics technologies has become more important than ever in recent years. There is hardly any country that does not invest - both at company, government and institutional level - in robotics.

This increase in investment is due to several factors, for example, the huge development of some of the catalysts of robotics such as 5G or Artificial Intelligence, which provide an ideal framework, with connections and capabilities that did not exist before.

What are security R&D projects?

Perhaps there is a greater lack of knowledge about research and innovation in this area, but there is much that mobile robotics is contributing to this field. Ministries of Defense, institutions focused on rescue or emergency operations, civil protection, law enforcement and the sectors that work for public safety in general, have their sights set on the advances that this technology represents.

There are different forms of insecurity that can affect citizens, 'be it crime, violence, terrorism, natural or man-made disasters, cyber-attacks or abuses of privacy, and other forms of social and economic disorder'. European Commission.

The projects in which Robotnik is involved aim to understand, detect, prevent, deter, prepare and protect against security threats.

The following points, taken from the European Commission's own website, perfectly summarize the activities that this research framework focuses on:

- Fighting crime, illegal trafficking and terrorism, including understanding and combating terrorist ideas and beliefs;

- Protecting and enhancing the resilience of critical infrastructures, supply chains and transport modes;

- Strengthening security through border management;

- Improve cyber security;

- Increase Europe's resilience to crises and disasters;

- Ensuring privacy and freedom, including on the Internet, and improving society's legal and ethical understanding of all areas of security, risk and management;

- Improve standardization and interoperability of systems, including for emergency purposes;

- Supporting the Union's external security policies, including conflict prevention and peace-building.

Following this contextual framework, the following are the security and rescue projects in which Robotnik is currently involved:

CREST

Fight crime with an autonomous platform with an advanced prediction, prevention, operation and investigation platform leveraging the IoT ecosystem.

Robotnik, as a hardware supplier, is developing a new UGV (unmanned ground vehicle) concept capable of autonomously deploying a small UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) in the field.

  • Threat detection and assessment.
  • Dynamic mission planning and adaptive navigation for improved surveillance based on autonomous systems.
  • Distributed command and control of law enforcement missions.
  • Sharing of information and exchange of digital evidence based on blockchain.
  • Delivery of pertinent information to different stakeholders in an interactive manner tailored to their needs.

RESPOND-A

It aims to develop holistic and user-friendly solutions for first responders. Robotnik is responsible for the development of robots for hazardous environments and support missions and participates in the development of interfaces between emergency robots and the command-and-control application.

  • Equipment tools and mission-critical strategies for First Responders
  • Augmented and Virtual Reality
  • Passive and active localization and tracking
  • Interactive multi-view 360º video streaming.
  • Autonomous robot and unmanned aerial vehicle coordination.

ROBORDER

Border authorities and law enforcement agencies (LEAs) across Europe face significant challenges in the way they patrol and protect borders. ROBORDER aims to develop and demonstrate a fully functional autonomous border surveillance system with unmanned mobile robots including aerial, water surface, underwater and land vehicles.

Robotnik, as a hardware supplier, is developing a new UGV (unmanned ground vehicle) concept capable of autonomously deploying a small UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) in the field.

  • Autonomous swarm of heterogeneous Robots for BORDER surveillance.
  • Fully-functional autonomous border surveillance system with unmanned mobile robots including aerial, water surface, underwater and ground vehicles, capable of functioning both as standalone and in swarms.
  • Detection capabilities for early identification of criminal activities and hazardous incidents.

INTREPID

The aim here is to provide first responders with a new approach to accelerate the exploration and assessment of hazardous sites, enabling a rapid and effective response. To revolutionize first responder operations in the early stages of a disaster when the chances of saving lives are greatest and operations are slowed down by many types of uncertainties.

Robotnik's role in the project is to design and develop an intelligent unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) capable of performing exploration missions through rugged terrain or complex indoor locations.

  • Reconnaissance and Assessment in Perilous Incidents.
  • A quick response is key in order to save lives and minimize environmental damage.
  • Develop a platform that will allow first responders to safely explore the scene, analyze and assess the existing threats and decide, based on reliable information about the situation, on the next steps to take.
  • Use cybernetic assistants (smart autonomous vehicles) to enhance the speed, range and effectiveness of complex site exploration.

FASTER

FASTER will provide innovative, accepted and efficient tools that enhance the capabilities of first responders in terms of situational awareness and communication.

Robotnik is the leader of the project's Work Package 5: "Autonomous Platforms". It involves the development of a new RB-CAR vehicle and also a SUMMIT-XL robot. They will be used by first responders to explore and check the environment and also to transport some heavy materials.

  • Tactical situational awareness providing innovative visualization services for a portable Common Operational Picture for both indoor and outdoor scenarios representation.
  • Data collection providing a secure IoT platform for distributed.
  • Resilient communication at the field level providing haptic communication capabilities, communication with K9s; and at the infrastructure level through 5G technologies and UAVs.

inspection robot


robotics r&d

Robotnik at DECENTER: Mobile robotics + artificial intelligence

Interview PhD- Decenter Project Coordinator.

Artificial Intelligence is a technology in constant evolution and its possibilities and influence in different areas is really wide. There are numerous AI applications related to mobile robotics that have a direct relationship with different industrial sectors. 

All these applications, as well as the habits of today's society, make it necessary to focus our attention on one key point: What do we do with the huge amount of data we generate? 

Robotnik is part of DECENTER, a European project within the H2020 program whose aim is precisely to manage, protect and process this data efficiently and securely. 

Ángel Soriano, responsible for Robotnik in this project, tells us a little more about DECENTER, telling us how it has evolved since its inception, at what stage are the objectives, the conclusions they draw and more.

 

1. Starting the conversation, could you give us a summary of what exactly DECENTER consists of?

DECENTER is a project that aims to provide an infrastructure that facilitates the integration and deployment of their services or applications to Artificial Intelligence and Cloud&Edge computing oriented software developers.

The project contemplates 3 different profiles:

  1. Programmers and architects oriented to distributed computing or edge/cloud computing management.
  2. Developers focused on AI algorithms, which normally require large computational capacity and memory.
  3. Operators or technical staff responsible for the proper functioning and integration of the software deployed on the available hardware.

 

 

DECENTER is intended to make it easier for the technician to integrate AI processes and/or algorithms into the system already deployed in their factory, and also to process them on the edge or in the cloud.

An example: we have a professional who is dedicated to developing an algorithm that is able to identify robots in a photograph. On the other hand, we have a worker-operator who knows his system, who is able to take that photograph, but is not a specialist in Artificial Intelligence. How can he integrate the advantages offered by AI without needing to specialize in it?

DECENTER aims to create these connections and distribute the computation (these algorithms require a lot of computing power) at different levels. 

A local level would be to run it inside the same computer that takes the picture. 

A level above that would be to run it on a computer that is not the same as the one taking the picture, but is within the same region or relatively close (Edge).

And a level above that would be to run it in the cloud.

By playing with these 3 levels, the project offers a platform that facilitates this integration and communication.

 

What role does Robotnik play in the project?

Everything explained above applies to 4 use cases that are defined in the project. Robotnik is a supplier of one of the use cases of the project: robotics logistics.

When a robot is performing its autonomous tasks navigating through the warehouse, it has to make certain decisions based on unforeseen events, such as encountering obstacles blocking its path. On certain occasions, if the robot is not able to identify what the obstacle is, the safest option is first for the robot to stop immediately and then to stop: 

  • Either that the robot remains static waiting until the obstacle disappears to ensure that there is no risk of collision. 
  • Or for the robot to re-plan its trajectory to reach its target from another location and try to avoid the obstacle. 

This is a very common situation in fleets of collaborative mobile robots as they often share workspace with each other and with workers in the same warehouse. 

DECENTER opens up the possibility of applying obstacle identification through AI. 

 

 

Robotnik provides the robots and all the infrastructure, as well as developing the integration of the DECENTER platform within the robot and the structure that we already had and thanks to this service offered by the partner and the project, we have been able to branch out the options for managing fleets of robots in warehouses.

 

2. At this point, which of the objectives set have been met and in which aspects will it be necessary to continue working on?

An example of an objective achieved in the specific use case of Robotnik is: we set out to be able to identify another robot with a confidence level of more than 80% and to reduce the CPU usage of robots by 10% by deriving computation to the edge/cloud. Both objectives have been successfully achieved.

 

3. What does this project mean for Industry 4.0?

There are several things that DECENTER brings to Industry 4.0 directly. One of them is the management of computing: being able to route and manage computing between devices. Distributed computing is something that is now the order of the day and it's purely cutting edge. We even talk about doing it in an intelligent way based on objectives or priorities. 

In Robotnik we design and manufacture mobile robots. If we want a robot to run a very heavy algorithm and with a lot of computational capacity (this happens in many occasions: high resolution cameras, LiDAR that captures 320.000 different points every second...), we must enable it to do so.

The straightforward solution is for the robot's CPU to be very powerful, which usually means it is more expensive. However, with the ability to delegate computation, you have the possibility to send all that data using communication with other devices or the cloud, compute the data there and apply the returned result to the robot.

This reduces costs from the point of view of robot production, makes the system more intelligent as it reduces the electrical consumption of the robot, optimises energy and in general optimises resources.

 

4. Taking into account both large companies and SMEs, what is the biggest challenge for the real application of Artificial Intelligence in industry?

The biggest challenge is undoubtedly that AI is constantly evolving and expanding and its integration in industry requires specialized personnel. Currently there is a gap between the specialized AI community and the personnel involved in the industry who have to deal with the problems of their own industry.

DECENTER tries to bring the two profiles together so that industry can benefit from the application of AI without the need to be an AI specialist.

 

 

 

There is another technological challenge involved in applying the DECENTER methodology in a real industry application, communications. When computing is delegated between devices, and these devices require a certain real-time processing speed, communication between devices needs to be fast and secure. 

At DECENTER we have worked at several levels: 

EDGE. Here you do not need internet to communicate with another device and it is considered a much faster level in terms of communications than the cloud.

The cloud. Here you do need an internet connection to access the servers and it is normally assumed to be slower than EDGE. 

Therefore, in general, communications is the great technological challenge of this methodology. Here we could also talk about 5G, which is another field in which Robotnik is actively participating in other projects.

 

5. Which use cases have had more impact or which sectors have shown interest in DECENTER's advances?

DECENTER is mainly related to data processing, its speed in data transmission and computational capacity. Computational resources. 

All projects have a development process in which use cases are always defined to demonstrate that the development is applicable to real applications. In the end, it is necessary to demonstrate in which areas of interest what is developed during the project will work.

In our DECENTER use case, the stakeholders are anyone who uses logistics robotics.

It can be interesting for any warehouse management, both for the savings it will bring to the company and for the technological and productive leap. 

During the DECENTER pilot, the RB-1 BASE was tested with very attractive results. Now I don't have individual robots, but I have a fleet of computers that 'help' each other to optimize processes, not only from a physical point of view, but above all from the data processing and execution of each one of them: if one of your robots is stopped loading, you can use the computer or PC of that robot to process data from the robot that is moving.


5G

5G and Robotics use cases in Spain

Robotnik is one of the partners that are carrying out the development of different pilot tests around 5G technology and robotics in Spain.

Robotnik, Orange, CFZ Cobots, Elewit, Visyon, Aracnocóptero or Etra, are some of the partners that are carrying out the development of different pilot tests around 5G uses in Valencia, Spain as part of the 5G PILOTS project. The aim is to boost the automation of different industrial sectors by integrating 5G technology in collaborative mobile robots.

5G PILOTS is part of the National 5G Plan, a programme for the development of 5G technology pilot projects run by the public entity Red.es, promoted by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Digital Transformation and co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), with a budget of 10 M€.

The project includes a total of 15 use cases developed by the different members of the joint venture, including Robotnik. In the institutional event held last Monday 14th, all of them were presented and 3 specific demonstrations were carried out, including the two use cases in which Robotnik participates.

Mobile robotics and 5G in Spain

The two cases using 5G and robotics technology in Spain, in which Robotnik participates are:

1. Use Case 6: Robotics - Remote Fleet Management of AGVs.

This 5G and Robotic technology case is implemented in two pilots in industrial manufacturing plants (both indoor and outdoor). The first one is FERMAX, where the RB-VOGUI robots will perform a task of supplying production points from the warehouse (indoor transport) and the second one is FAURECIA, where the robot will perform a task of transporting airbag racks. Up to now, work is being carried out on the design of the transport trolleys and the robot-to-trolley docking system to carry out the transport, on the indoor and outdoor location and navigation system (3D SLAM), on the user interface and on the implementation of a fleet manager in the cloud, which will later be tested on the edge.

robot móvil

As soon as 5G connectivity is available on the UPV Campus, the first communication, fleet management and telecontrol tests of both use cases will begin, as well as preliminary operational and validation tests prior to the implementation of the pilots.

2. Use Case 7: Robotics - Remote Inspection.

The inspection robotics use case focuses on the autonomous inspection of electrical substations and catenary for FGV (Ferrocarrils of the Generalitat Valenciana). Work is currently underway on the configuration of sensors and manufacture of the robot, on the programming and configuration of the robot for this application, on the organisation of a platform for data storage and on the integration of the 5G communications system with the remote inspection robot.

Partners in use cases 6 and 7

Robotnik provides robotic technology at hardware and software level for both use cases. Specifically, Robotnik provides a SUMMIT-XL robot (inspection) and a fleet of RB-VOGUI robots (Fleet Management System), as well as the software that includes among other modules such as the fleet manager, on-board software for localisation, navigation, mission management, HMI, etc.
Iteam is responsible for the development and integration of the 5G communications system based on Robotnik's hardware and software.

5G

Intel is Orange's partner in use case 6 (Fleet Management - AGVs) and provides cloud computing algorithms that process data obtained from its sensors.

Finally, Orange is the network provider and Huawei is the infrastructure hardware provider.

5G marks the future of collaborative mobile robotics and is a major breakthrough for the industry. Indeed, as discussed last year, 'the European Commission published a Recommendation calling on Member States to boost investment in very high capacity broadband connectivity infrastructure, including 5G, which is the cornerstone of the digital transformation and an essential pillar of the recovery. The timely deployment of 5G networks will offer significant economic opportunities in the coming years as it is a crucial asset for European competitiveness and sustainability, as well as an important enabler of future digital services.' As the official website reads.

What does 5G bring to mobile robotics? 

The inspection robotics and fleet management pilots are very representative examples where the introduction of 5G will play a disruptive role. It is an unbeatable framework to validate and test the capabilities of this new technology, which undoubtedly brings innumerable advantages for collaborative mobile robotics.

What 5G technology brings to autonomous service robots:

  • High bandwidth: required for data, video and audio streams, both for telecontrol and for cloud or edge processing.
  • Low latency and guaranteed latency: this opens up the possibility of teleoperation (and remote presence) to levels previously impossible. It also enables centralised fleet control, reducing computational needs on robots.
  • Cloud computing: the robot does not have to have large processing capabilities, it can rely on AI algorithms or sensor processing in the cloud, allowing for a cheaper, more versatile and easier to install, cheaper and less energy consuming product.
  • Much smoother and higher quality teleoperation:

With the pilots being developed, the aim is to validate the above advantages and measure the performance in real use cases.


industry 4.0

Robotnik in the recycling of electronic waste (E-Waste): HR-RECYCLER

The recycling of electronic waste (E-Waste) is currently the biggest threat to the planet, according to the Global Recycling Foundation.  

In fact, the United Nations recently warned that e-waste is considered to be the "fastest growing waste stream in the world"; we are actually talking about around 53 million tonnes per year (according to the UNU Global E-waste Monitor 2020 report, in 2019), which will increase considerably in the coming years, including toxic components and hazardous waste if not properly recycled.

The recycling of WEEE is a time and effort consuming process, due to the variety of devices to be recycled and the different components and materials they are made of. In the face of this reality, we, the industries, cannot remain on the sidelines. 

Robotnik wants to be part of the solution and therefore, we participate in HR-RECYCLER, a multidisciplinary project which aims to improve the recycling capacity of European countries.

Human-robot collaboration in the WEEE recycling process.

A key issue in recycling processes is the routing of raw and disassembled materials and components through the recycling plant. This is a resource-consuming process, as materials and components are processed in various parts of the factory. In a typical recycling process, unsorted devices arrive at the recycling plant in large trucks. After sorting, each device has to be transported to its recycling station where it is separated into its components. The components can be further separated or ready to be moved to their final destination.

This is where Robotnik comes in. Transporting materials within a factory has to be done affordably, efficiently and safely. Furthermore, with the advent of the fourth industrial revolution, mobile robots have to be able to operate in collaboration with humans sharing the same space.

How to make it affordable?

Affordability is achieved by providing a mobile robot capable of transporting the same baskets that the factory already has, which reduces the number of changes that need to be made in the factory.

How to make it really efficient?

Efficiency is achieved through state-of-the-art navigation algorithms, as well as factory planning algorithms in general. Collaboration is achieved through the use of human-aware navigation, but also by increasing communication between the robot and the human about the robot's intentions. Safety is achieved through the application of stringent measures, sensors and actuators that comply with the latest safety standards.

All this effort is directed by Robotnik towards the creation of a new robot: RB-ARES. Robotnik has developed a reliable solution that integrates robots, localization systems, configuration and programming tools (HMI) and Fleet Management System (FMS). This knowledge will be integrated into the new RB-ARES, which is able to carry up 

to 1.500 Kg. and make a completely autonomous navigation.

Application of the RB-ARES robot in in recycling.

The purpose of RB-AREs will be to pick and place EURO pallets at ground level and direct them through the factory with the required features of affordability, efficiency, safety and collaboration with people. To fulfil this mission, RB-Ares is equipped with state-of-the-art actuators and sensors.

 

RB-ARES is powered by ROS, as well as Robotnik's own technology for navigation, localization and human-machine interface, which allows easy configuration, programming and integration of the robot into different applications and fleet management systems, as is required by Industry 4.0. This is the main feature of Collaborative Mobile Robots like RB-ARES, an intelligent mobile robot that assists humans in a shared workspace and supports the optimisation of processes within the industry.

[1] World Economic Forum. (2019). A New Circular Vision for Electronics: Time for a Global Reboot, (January), 24. Retrieved from


dissasembly area

How to use MoveIT to develop a robotic manipulation application

European Commission funded HR-Recycler project aims at developing a hybrid human-robot collaborative environment for the disassembly of electronic waste. Humans and robots will be working collaboratively sharing different manipulation tasks. One of these tasks takes place in the disassembly area where electronic components are sorted by type into their corresponding boxes. 

An easy-to-use robotic manipulation platform

To speed up the component sorting task Robotnik is developing a mobile robotic manipulator that needs to pick boxes filled with disassembled components from the workbenches and transport them either to their final destination or to further processing areas. MoveIt is an open-source robotic manipulation platform that allows you to develop complex manipulation applications using ROS. 

Here, a brief summary showing how we used MoveIt functionalities to develop a pick and place application will be presented.

Features and benefits of MoveIT

We found MoveIt to be very useful in the early stages of developing a robotic manipulation application. It allowed us to decide on the environment setup, whether our robot is capable of performing the manipulation actions we need it to perform in that setup, how to arrange the setup for the best performance, how to design the components of the workspace the robot has to interact with so that they allow for the correct completion of the manipulation actions needed in the application. 

Workspace layout

MoveIt allows you to build the planning scene environment using mesh objects previously designed in any cad program and allows your robot to interact with them. 

With MoveIt you can plan towards any goal position not only taking into account the environment scene by avoiding objects but also interacting with it by grabbing objects and including them in the planning process. Any MoveIt scene Collision Object can be attached to the desired robot link, MoveIt will then allow collisions between that link and the object, once attached the object will move together with the robot’s link. 

Figure 2: MoveIt Planning Scene with collision objects (green) and attached objects (purple).

This functionality helped us determine from the very beginning whether our robot arm was able to reach objects in a table with a certain height, how far away from the table should the robot position to reach the objects properly, is there enough space to perform the arm movements it needs to perform to manipulate objects around the workspace area. It also helped us design the boxes needed for the task, allowing us to decide on the correct box size that will allow the robot arm to perform the necessary manipulation movements given the restricted working area.  

Motion Planning

MoveIt includes various tools that allow you to perform motion planning to the desired pose with high flexibility, you can adjust the motion planning algorithm to your application to obtain the best performance. This is very useful because it allows you to restrict your robot’s allowed motion to fit very specific criteria, which is an application like ours, with a restricted working space where the robot needs to manipulate objects precisely in an environment shared with humans is very important.

Figure 3: Planning to the desired goal taking into account collisions with the scene.

One of the biggest motion requirements we have is the need for the robot arm to maintain the boxes parallel to the ground when manipulating them as they will be filled with objects that need to be carried between work stations. To plan using constraints can be easily done with MoveIt.

There are various constraints that can be applied, the ones we found more useful for our application are joint constraints and orientation constraints. 

  • With Orientation constraints you can restrict the desired orientation of a robot link, they are very useful to maintain the robot’s end-effector parallel to the ground, needed to manipulate the boxes properly. 
  • Joint constraints limit the position of a joint to be within a certain bound, they are very useful to shape the way you want your robot to move, in our application it allowed us to move the arm maintaining a relative position between the elbow and shoulder, performing more natural movements and avoiding potentially dangerous motions.
Figure 4: Motion Planning with joint and orientation constraints vs without.

Another useful MoveIt motion planning tool is to plan movements to a goal position both in Cartesian and in Joint Space, allowing you to switch between these two options for different desired trajectory outcomes.

  • Cartesian Space planning is used whenever you want to follow a very precise motion with the end effector link. In our application, we made use of these functions when moving down from the box approach position to the grab position and back again. Our robot has to carry the boxes with it, and due to limited space on its base area, all of the boxes are quite close together, using Cartesian planning we could assure we are maintaining verticality while raising the box from its holder avoiding latching between boxes and unnecessary stops. 
  • Joint Space planning is however useful to obtain more natural trajectories when the arm is moving between different grabbing positions making movement smoother. 
Figure 5: Motion Planning in Cartesian Space vs Joint Space.

This is just a brief summary of how we used MoveIt to develop a preliminary robotic pick and place manipulation application, there are still lots of different tools that MoveIt has to offer. Some of MoveIt’s most advanced applications include integrating 3D sensors to build a perception layer used for object recognition in pick and place tasks or using deep learning algorithms for grasp pose generation, areas that will be explored in the next steps. 

Stay tuned for future updates in the development of a robotic manipulation application using MoveIt’s latest implementations. 

Down below you will find a short demonstration of the currently developed application running on a Robotnik’s RB-KAIROS mobile manipulator.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JgyDB57xjDw