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Service and security robots with 2D LiDAR sensors fit for daily use

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article image TiM sensors for environment detection and navigation support

Service and security robots with 2D LiDAR sensors fit for daily use

Cohabitation made easy

What was once fiction is now increasingly a reality – the robot as a service provider in public and private spheres. The fact that man and machine can now live together is made possible not least by sensor solutions such as the 2D LiDAR sensors from SICK's TiM series. They enable service and security robots to record their environment down to the last detail, to adapt to changing conditions, to interact with people, and to react to unfamiliar situations in a human-like manner.

Depending on the application of the sometimes humanoid, sometimes futuristically designed robots, 2D LiDAR sensors (Light Detection And Ranging) from the TiM product families enable mobile assistants to record their working environment, to move freely within it, and to approach people – yet also to stop or avoid any obstacles.

Taking a trip with Marc M.: robots as friendly and hardworking helpers

For many people, robots are not a common feature of their daily lives – the same goes for Marc M. too, if you don't count his wife's robot vacuum cleaner or the robot lawnmower in his neighbour's garden. That's why his face was quite the picture when he arrived at South Korea's Incheon Airport, and a mobile service robot headed straight over to him in the arrivals hall, stopped right in front of him, and then started to speak. Did he need any help with his luggage, was he looking for the taxi rank, did he want to find a specific car rental company, or did he require information on bus and subway timetables? The robot proved to be a helpful assistant in the middle of this bustling environment. Unbelievable, thinks Marc M., as the robot shows him the way through the masses of people in the hall. In the car park, he is then met with the next surprise: A security robot on the parking level is monitoring the parked cars and is also keeping an eye out for unwanted trespassers and suspicious activities. In an emergency, the robot makes contact with the emergency call centre itself – and is also on hand as a mobile emergency call station in the event that a person feels threatened. “A worthwhile addition to the security personnel, but how does it detect possible dark figures on its round?” Marc wonders en route to his hotel. Arriving in room 203, he unpacks his holdall and notices that he has everything he needs – apart from toothpaste and a toothbrush. “That's what room service is for,” he thinks to himself and places an order for both items on the phone. He doesn't have to wait long for the doorbell to ring – but instead of a chambermaid or a butler, he is greeted by the hotel's room robot. In its storage compartment, he finds a toothbrush and a small tube of toothpaste as requested, as well as an invitation from the hotel management asking him if he would like to visit the bar where more robots are mixing cocktails and playing the piano. The room robot asks if it can be of further service and wishes him a lovely evening. It turns around, sets off, and quickly moves out of the way of a hotel guest who is just leaving his room. Taking a direct route as if by its own accord, the room robot reaches the lift – it needs to go and collect the laundry from a hotel guest in apartment 414 for the laundry service. Luckily, when Marc calls home, it isn't a robot that picks up, but his wife Roberta instead...

Growing service robotics market initiates impetus for innovation

Marc M. isn't alone in his experience – and in a few years, commercial service and security robots could play an even more prominent role in daily life. This assumption is certainly well-founded – sales of service robots for professional use are set to increase by 12 percent to a new record of 5.2 billion US dollars by the end of 2017, according to the “World Robotics Report 2017 – Service Robots” from the International Federation of Robotics (IFR)2. Further forecasts are also promising: Between 2018 and 2020, average growth of between 20 and 25 percent is expected for service robots. The findings of the study on the structure of the global market also make for interesting reading. Around 290 of the 700 providers of service robots registered with the IFR come from Europe. North America is ranked second with around 240 manufacturers, and Asia is third with approximately 130 manufacturers. In the USA around 200 start-ups are currently working on new service robots. In the European Union and Switzerland, 170 fledgeling companies are active in this segment – followed by Asia with 135 start-ups. Even the framework conditions seem to be right, as practically all developed economies have a socio-economic environment that would be favourable to the development of service robotics. This is just one of the reasons why the IFR study anticipates that the total market volume for service robots will amount to 46 billion USD by 2019, increasing from 7.2 billion USD in 2015. The fact that this is also generating impetus for innovation, particularly concerning applied sensor and control technology is abundantly clear – and SICK is actively shaping this development with its 2D LiDAR sensors from the TiM series.

Why do mobile service robots need to be particularly aware of their environment?

The term “robot” in many cases is still thought of in relation to conventional, stationary industrial use, for example on the coating, welding, or assembly lines, or as pallet handling or depalletizer systems. The overwhelming majority of such industrial robots are in stationary use and work in an environment that has been adapted to them. This, in turn, has a major influence on the design of the safety technology required by law – for example, safety fences or electro-sensitive protective devices. In contrast, commercial service and security robots provide services either directly or indirectly to people. They are almost always mobile – their working environment is not predictable, which is why they need to visualise their surroundings themselves. What's more, they have to do this continuously, several times a second. And their environments can – as Marc's trip shows – be very varied indeed.

TiM – the sensor platform for environment detection and navigation support

2D LiDAR sensors from SICK's TiM product families can handle this variety with aplomb. Integrated into service or security robots so that they are barely visible, they use eye-safe infrared light from laser class 1 and high-resolution HDDM evaluation technology (High Definition Distance Measurement). This is a high-resolution digital process for measuring time and distance which provides both distance and remission values to the control of service and security robots. The major advantage of this technology over other laser sensors, as well as over camera solutions lies in the fact that the quality of the measured values remains consistently high even in adverse conditions. In practical terms, this means, for example, that the sensor will not be affected by dazzle, which in other sensors could cause the robot to stop or become disorientated in its environment. The robot control can use the TiM data at any time for mapping purposes, allowing it to adapt how it responds to situations and obstacles. Last but not least, all TiM impress with their industry-standard connectivity and low power consumption of just a few watts – a level of energy efficiency that is ideal for the long operating times of mobile service and security robots.

Many variants, one question: Which TiM should I use when?

The question of which TiM is best in which robot application is often answered in practice based on the field to be monitored. With its aperture angle of 200° and working range of up to three meters, the TiM 1xx has an area of up to 15.7 square meters in its sights – for which the detection zone can be defined and configured based on the specific task. The TiM3xx has a working range of up to 10 meters at an aperture angle of 270°, meaning that a maximum area of 235 square meters can be monitored. What's more, the installation of two diagonally arranged TiM3xx enables 360° detection of the robot's surroundings – and thanks to enclosure ratings up to IP 67, they are also suitable for use outdoors, such as in car parks or courtyards. With the aid of 16 pre-configured field triples with a message, warning, and stopping functions, the most common monitoring applications in mobile robotics can be covered. The TiM5xx works without any fieldsets at all: It makes its measurement data (which has an even higher resolution) directly available to the robot control in the form of a machine-readable string. The monitoring zone is particularly large: Measuring distances of up to 25 meters result in an area of up to 1,470 square meters. The rugged IP 67 metal sensor housing means that this sensor too can also be used indoors and outdoors.

TiM361S: the smallest safety-related 2D LiDAR sensor

In mobile applications on service robots, risk analyses find that a collision avoidance mechanism is required and that protection in accordance with performance level b is therefore necessary. For such cases, the TiM361S is the first safety-certified 2D LiDAR sensor to be available with performance level b in accordance with EN ISO 13849-1:2015. It represents the perfect union between measurement performance and functional safety and fits seamlessly into SICK's existing 2D LiDAR product portfolio. In the safe working range from 0.05 cm to 4 m, up to 48 independent monitoring fields and as many monitoring scenarios as required can be mapped to service and security robots.

Robots – the up-and-coming flexible daily assistants

With the 2D LiDAR sensors, a technological solution is available to the service and security robotics sector which has proven itself thousands of times over in numerous industrial applications, for example with mobile work platforms as well as in the public sector – including as a protection mechanism in automated platform screen doors in metro stations. What's more, the continued boom in service and assistance robotics is sure to open up further application possibilities for these hardworking mechatronic helpers. Already, therapy robots are at work in rehabilitation centres, helping stroke patients or accident victims to learn how to walk or pick up objects again. Service robots in the care sector are already performing routine tasks, such as delivering meals or medications, in many places. In agriculture – where milking robots were a technological pioneer at the start of the 1990s – service robots are now used to sow seeds and dig up weeds. Robots such as those seen at Incheon Airport could work just as well as mobile information assistants in museums, as product promoters in supermarkets, as receptionists in hotels, and as welcome hosts in restaurants. With the growing need for monitoring services, both security and rescue robots are set to be increasingly in demand in the future.

All product versions and product visions will have to get to grips with increasingly complex situations and living environments. The ability to detect people, animals, furniture, physical infrastructure, and other objects as effectively as possible is essential to this. The 2D laser sensors of the TiM LiDAR product families create this sense of perception and, importantly, enable the robots to respond in a human-like manner – ensuring the greatest possible acceptance of the mobile assistance systems in day-to-day public and private use.

Sources and explanations

1: https://automationspraxis.industrie.de/servicerobotik/warumserviceroboter-weltweit-boomen/

Written by: Jonas Ledergerber, Product Manager for the TiM series at the Global Business Center Identification & Measuring, SICK AG, Reute, Germany

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