4 questions / answers on the interoperability of autonomous mobile robots

Across all industries, manufacturers and their warehousing service providers are constantly seeking to optimize processes to meet challenges related to labor shortages, increasing competition, agile production requirements and fast deliveries.

In a few years, the robot Autonomous Mobile (AMR) has become an effective way to automate internal transportation for businesses around the world. As AMR becomes an increasingly recognized technology, manufacturers, warehouse and distribution site managers have increasingly higher requirements. To keep them satisfied, they can rely on a host of automated vehicles – from AMRs to forklifts and forklifts, to Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) – to receive, store, move and ship items faster. and more precisely.

With the unprecedented increase in automation and the implementation of different AMRs and other automated vehicles, more complex traffic situations arise. Logistics systems are likely to have been provided by different vendors, with varying standards of operation and distinct control systems. This complexity is not ideal for the end user who is looking for ease of use and a single control and support mechanism for their entire fleet of AMRs and automated vehicles.

L’interoperability is therefore a very interesting subject to study. Here are answers to four of the most frequently asked questions about autonomous mobile robot interoperability.

1- What is interoperability for AMR?

Simply put, interoperability is the ability of a central management system to communicate and coordinate with fleet hardware from different vendors through a single source of control and interface. In principle, this reduces barriers to the adoption of automated vehicles within a site. But in current practice, each AMR vendor uses its own fleet management software, making it difficult for end users to effectively operate a fleet of mixed AMR and AGV brands.

2- What are the main challenges of AMR interoperability?

Interoperability makes a lot of sense from the customer’s initial point of view: why be tied to a single supplier if the market can be standardized? In reality, even though the basis of interoperability standards has been established today (with the VDA 5050 interface and the MassRobotics platform), there is still a long way to go to take full advantage of it.

Indeed, the property of system performance remains a gray area. Is the supplier of the third-party fleet manager responsible for the malfunctions of the system or is it the robot manufacturer, even if he did not design the software but provides the data? Or is it the interface that connects to the system ERP/WMS of the end customer? Many questions that remain unanswered for the moment.

From a technical point of view, each supplier generally offers two types of software: the Embedded Software who controls the planning of robot tasks and who is responsible for fleet management. In this context, how to manage the different cards, configurations, etc. from different vendors in a third-party system is not clearly defined. In addition, the data quality of fleet management systems is not standardized, so it can be difficult to specify what data can be exchanged between two AMR systems.

3- What is the VDA 5050 and MassRobotics?

The VDA 5050 is a standardized interface for communication between AGVs, potentially from different vendors, and fleet management software. The AMRs can join it if they give up part of their autonomy.

The objective of this standard is to allow compliant AGVs and mobile robots to work together using common fleet management software. Describing the communication between two entities, the AGV and the fleet manager, the VDA 5050 standard will therefore have to be implemented at both ends of the communication channel to function correctly. Its aim is to control the process at a low level, unlike fleet solutions offered by different suppliers which could co-exist and negotiate on the shop floor.

MassRobotics is the American concept for interoperability standards. The MassRobotics Task Force was formed in 2020 with a mission to develop standards for deploying AMRs and other automation equipment from different vendors and operating them together in the same environment. This standard should allow robots of different types and brands to share state information and operational conventions so that they can coexist effectively.

The VDA 5050 standard and MassRobotics are in their infancy and current versions are limited to basic functionality such as communicating commands to AMR/AGVs and sending actions. They do not yet cover the many other factors that must be managed to ensure a successful multi-robot installation.

4- Do third-party fleet management systems make vendor-specific fleet management software and systems redundant?

As we have seen, interoperability has many advantages. In the future, it is a safe bet that third-party fleet management systems will be able to support traffic planning and the exchange of certain data. However, the road to get there is not easy and we are only at the beginning. As previously stated, there are many business and technical challenges to consider. Therefore, vendor-specific robot and fleet management software remain paramount to ensuring the performance of AMRs for years to come.

In the nearer future, it is more realistic to see coexistence between systems, so AMR manufacturers are making interoperability native to their systems. These can be integrated into a third-party fleet management system as well as manage overall traffic control from different AMRs and other automated vehicles. For advanced functions, data collection, predictive maintenancedevelopments… the AMR manufacturer’s state-of-the-art software remains the key to successful integration.

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4 questions / answers on the interoperability of autonomous mobile robots

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