Digital twins can ensure a better use of mobile robots
Simulation tools and data collection can make it easier for integrators and end users to implement mobile robots. These are the results from the recent RoboCluster (now Odense Robotics) collaboration project “Digital Twins for Interacting Mobile Robots”.
During the past year, researchers from the University of Southern Denmark (SDU) and Aalborg University have worked together with the companies BILA Logistics, Integrate and Maskinsikkerhed to demonstrate how digital twins (advanced simulation tools) can help uncover the strengths and limitations of mobile robots that interact with humans and their surroundings.
BILA Logistics is both a manufacturer and supplier of AGV (Automatic Guided Vehicle) solutions and has provided the project with end user implementation challenges. Four areas were identified that are especially relevant when estimating the expected performance of mobile robots: 1) Wi-Fi connectivity (since mobile robots are often dependent on network access, 2) Autonomous Exploration for effective mapping of the end user’s facilities, 3) Interactive maps for specifying and modelling expected interactions with the robots, and 4) Discrete Event Simulation (DES), used for estimating the expected performance of the robots.
On the basis of these challenges, researchers from SDU have tested a robot platform from Capra Robotics that, by using a 3D Lidar, has collected data and mapped its surroundings, thereby creating maps in both 2D and 3D as a basis for planning and simulating the routes of the mobile robots.
Aalborg University has been working on mapping and testing wireless Wi-Fi networks by using a robot platform from MIR. The Wi-Fi measurements are projected onto the robot’s map, so areas with poor signal coverage or expected shifts between access points can be taken into account when planning the route.
”There is a lot of potential in this project because we can lower the threshold for implementing mobile robots by combining data collection at the end user’s facilities with the use of simulation tools. Processes that previously included a lot of manual planning can now be based on simulations. This is especially relevant for end users who might not have the needed robot expertise in–house,” says Leon Bodenhagen, Associate Professor at the Maersk Mc-Kinney Moller Institute SDU, and Project Manager of the Digital Twinsproject.
Best possible return on robot solutions
The project results point to an even better return on mobile robots because the simulation tools can provide integrators and end users with knowledge on which situations could be problematic and how many mobile robots are necessary to solve a specific task. The simulation tools can also be a method to visualise relevant parameters, including Wi-Fi in order to address specific challenges.
“In the project, we have become acquainted with some technologies that are extremely relevant to us, which can help us overcome some of the limitations that we are experiencing regarding mobile robots today,” says Ole Madsen, CEO of BILA Logistics. He adds:
”The technologies can help as tools to prepare our dealers and ultimately the end users to identify challenges with the infrastructure so they can ensure the best possible return on their solutions.”
The project partners have now started a dialogue on how to bring the project forward because of the possibilities of the technologies and the potential of integrating the project results in one flow.
According to IFR’s World Robotics Report, the market for mobile robots is increasing, and in 2019 the sale of indoor logistics robots went up by 42 %. Mobile robots are used in the industry where warehouses are being digitised, in the healthcare sector and for inspection. The use of autonomous mobile robots has also increased during the COVID-19 pandemic where the robots have helped reduce the risk of infection for healthcare professionals, patients and citizens.
Project Manager Leon Bodenhagen and Christian Schlette – both from SDU Robotics – have contributed to the project with knowledge about simulation tools and applied robot technologies. Technologies that are used at SDU’s Industry 4.0 Lab and support research, innovation and education within Industry 4.0 technologies.
Ole Madsen and his colleagues from the Department of Materials and Production at Aalborg University have provided knowledge to the project about wireless networks where by using heatmaps they have been able to identify challenges for the for mobile robots in a realistic production facility environment at Aalborg University’s Smart Production Lab.
Integrate has contributed to the project with insights about Discrete Event Simulation (DES), a method to simulate behaviour and performance for a real process, facility, or system.
Maskinsikkerhed has provided the project with the latest knowledge regarding safety regulations and measures, especially for mobile robots that operate in environments where there are also humans.
Leon Bodenhagen, Associate Professor, SDU Robotics, The Maersk Mc-Kinney Moller Institute, University of Southern Denmark,
Phone: +45 6550 7424, mail: [email protected]
About this article and the project “Digital Twins for Interacting Mobile Robots”
The collaboration project was part of the RoboCluster network in 2020, which is now a part of Odense Robotics. It was co-financed by the Ministry of Higher Education and Science and the Region of Southern Denmark.
This article was provided by the University of Southern Denmark.