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

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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