An ISO standard for robots modularity is a significant breakthrough
The recent breakthrough- the first ISO standard- presents the development of open modules for service robots. Professor Gurvinder Singh Virk, Dean, School of Engineering, UPES, who has been instrumental in attaining this international standard, simplifies its significance.
Globally, robotics has been trying to develop from its established base of industrial robots for manufacturing to service robot applications for over 20 years. But the progress has been slow. The recent breakthrough- the first ISO standard- presents the development of open modules for service robots, leading to smoother inter-operability and plug-n-play capabilities. Professor Gurvinder Singh Virk, Dean, School of Engineering, UPES, who has been instrumental in attaining this international standard, simplifies its significance for the robotics eco-system.
1. Tell us about this first ISO standard on robot modularity and why was it needed?
International standards generally focus on safety, quality, and sustainability. Inter-operability tends to get left aside as companies emphasize on full systems/products. With increased technology complexities, companies are finding it difficult to innovate at the ‘system’ level as the parts that should be used are too basic. Only large companies have the resources to develop their own specialised parts and can set up good component supply chains to make their products have commercial advantages. The components suppliers they choose are usually small companies who agree to manufacture the bespoke part for the large organisations but as the supply chains are “closed” it is difficult for them to sell their product/parts to other companies. This is because the interfacing is very specialised and so other companies cannot use the parts in a straightforward manner. Therefore, most hi-tech companies spend considerable time developing the interfacing of parts available on the open market so that their product has come competitive edge.
What is needed are common parts that can be used in multiple ways and thereby open up new markets in a straightforward manner. This is the aim of ISO 22166-1 standard- the first ISO standard that presents the development of open modules for service robots. The standard provides requirements and guidelines on how the robot modules should be designed from hardware and software as well as composite perspectives to allow the different modules to plug-n-play by being able to be connected or “configured” with other modules to realise application specific designs. This will allow a common approach to robot design so modules can be easily connected and replaced by other modules from different manufacturers.
2. What kind of companies in the robotics eco-system stand to benefit from this standardization?
The standard is aimed at companies who make components and parts used by larger companies to make bigger more complex systems. The parts and components are normally the backbone of economies as they are used to make most systems and products. The new standard allows components supplier who tend to be SMALL companies to turn their “component-products” in to “module-products” with defined interoperability interfaces so that open supply chains module markets can be encouraged to be developed. The modules are easily confirmed and reconfigured to make applications specific design more easily.
3. Now that the ISO standard is in place, how much time will it take companies to adopt it?
It takes time for awareness of a new standard to develop in industry and for new trends to develop. For this, I am working with various organisations in several countries such as China, Taiwan, UK and Korea on facilitating the creation of specific ecosystems based on regional requirements by developing ISO 22166-1 compliant modules for specific service robot applications.
Although the standard applies to service robotics, it can be designed and commercialised to other hi-tech sectors such as machines, automation equipment, consumer appliances, etc.
The intention is to convert normal “closed supply chains” to “open supply chains”.
4. Name some sectors that can immediately benefit and how?
Any robot sector can start to benefit and the sooner the modules are realised, the sooner the possibility of other sectors can be encouraged. It makes sense to start with applications where these is highest potential for the new technology. In this respect, consumer robots would appear to have good prospects, including domestic servant robots, physical assistant robots (assistive exoskeletons), and even medical robots.
5. How does this ISO standard impact the design and development of future robotic systems?
The standard allows complex system design to be broken into design of simpler modules. The modules can connect together easily with other modules with “plug-n-play” or “plug-n-work” functionality. This will allow application specific robots to be rapidly realised with minimal effort to achieve more affordable solutions.
6. Why is this framework required and how is it going to help module designers/ manufacturers?
The inter-operability defined by ISO allows individual manufacturers to focus on their technologies and not worry about how their products should connect and work with other products. Guidance on how connectivity and functionality requirements should be achieved are presented in the new ISO 22166-1 standard.
7. What are the other challenges ailing the robotics eco-systems? How can aspiring robotics experts help?
The technical quality of components is not advanced enough to meet affordability constraints. For example, robotics needs better sensors, more powerful motors, more dense batteries, stronger yet more lightweight materials and more sophisticated algorithms and decision-making behaviours, etc.
To know more about UPES School of Engineering visit: https://www.upes.ac.in/schools/school-of-engineering
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