Industrial inspections are typically performed by personnel who manually check the state and integrity of equipment and its environment. This manual inspection work is tedious, error prone and often exposes humans to hazardous environments.
Deploying autonomous robotics for routine inspections can support shifting qualified manpower away from these tedious tasks. It can free personnel to address value-add maintenance operations and reduce their exposure to hazardous and remote environments.
ANYbotics, an Automated with Velodyne partner, provides robot solutions with advanced mobility and autonomy capabilities that can work in challenging terrain. Their four-legged robot ANYmal D performs inspection and monitoring tasks in industries such as energy, processing, chemical, railways, construction, mines, maritime and many more.
To learn more about ANYbotics and their robot applications that deliver reliable and consistent inspections, we chatted with Daniel Lopez Madrid, their Team Lead Perception.
Daniel: ANYbotics is a Swiss robotics company pioneering the development of autonomous mobile robotics. Our walking robots move beyond conventional, purpose-built environments and solve customer problems in challenging infrastructure so far only accessible to humans. We are a fast-growing team of over 70 employees set out to revolutionize industries with robotics technologies. After developing several generations of legged robots, ANYmal D is our first commercial robot that is ready to be used in operational environments.
With the robot at the core, we are also launching a full industrial inspection solution consisting of the autonomous robot platform, its inspection intelligence capabilities and an integrated data processing workflow. In this setup, we are able to cover the entire information chain and offer our customers an end-to-end solution for robotic industrial inspection.
For developing ANYmal D, we have built upon our experience from over 10,000 operating hours with our existing fleet in proof-of-concept installations. ANYmal D inherits the best parts of our previous robot generations such as a large range of motion to navigate complex industrial environments with steep stairs or slippery and uneven floors. Furthermore, built-in sensors allow for full autonomy, and an integrated edge computer enables the robot to solve customer-specific tasks. As we are operating in industrial environments, a ruggedized design, including a full IP67 ingress protection rating and a docking system for autonomous recharging are important features.
ANYmal D also features some new capabilities. We achieve a higher overall operational robustness through additional depth cameras (six in total), new software for increased locomotion performance, autonomy and usability, and new data analysis skills for our inspection sensor suite. The safety of the robot, which is an important aspect to consider for autonomous robots operating together with humans, is improved by a new high-visibility indicator light and a safety-certified emergency stop system.
Through a redesign of the robot’s main body, it is now considerably shorter such that it fits through even narrower spaces or around tight corners on top of steep stairs. The leg actuators are also 15% more efficient, which allows for a longer robot operating time and a higher ambient operating temperature. The robot can now also communicate with an industry-grade Wi-Fi and an optional 4G/LTE system, which is important for uploading data reliably and quickly also in remote facilities, or for teleoperation.
Overall, the most effort went into designing ANYmal D as a mass-manufacturable and cost-effective product adhering to industrial certification standards.
Daniel: Robots are excellent at doing the same task again and again. They do not get tired or distracted and can perform to the best of their abilities consistently. By taking the human out of dangerous zones to perform inspection tasks we remove the risk of human-made errors. On top of that, robots are very good at performing multiple tasks at the same time. Our robots can inspect the environment in a superior way, they have zoom cameras, thermal cameras, ultrasonic microphones and active illumination to be able to inspect in greater detail, detect any unexpected changes in temperatures or unwanted vibrations in machinery. This allows us, for example, to detect potential failures before they happen and assess the need for preemptive maintenance.
We can also extend ANYmal’s capabilities by integrating custom payloads that would cover any additional needs or use cases from our customers, making ANYmal an extremely flexible and adaptable platform for a wide range of industries.
Even in the worst-case scenario, if there was a serious incident, we will help to minimize the human presence in the high-risk areas and reduce any potential harm to humans.
Daniel: Velodyne is the lidar industry leader with many years of experience and a proven track record of delivering high-quality sensors. The high accuracy, compact design, low weight and affordable price of the Velodyne Puck™ make it an ideal choice for ANYmal. The Puck is a vital sensor for our robots and allows us to create a map of our environment and localize ourselves on it. The sensor also helps us to detect obstacles and avoid any collisions with them.
One key area for us has also been the great support that we have received from the Velodyne Solutions team. They have greatly helped us when integrating the sensor into ANYmal and pushing it to its limits. I would also like to highlight the great manufacturing quality and repeatability across different sensor units that we have received.
Daniel: Industries like mining, power, oil and gas, or chemicals are striving to optimise their operation costs, reducing risks and downtime. Enabling unmanned industrial inspections is one way to get there as ANYbotics focuses on bringing robotic routine inspection to these harsh facilities. This is not only a robotic solution that allows us to reduce human exposure to high risks, but also a tool to collect better data. The autonomous robot provides automated routine inspections generating the insights to be able to adjust operations swiftly.
Our autonomous robot has proven its capability to navigate and perform inspection tasks in challenging terrains like the ones we found at PETRONAS facilities. The operators started by accessing the robot through the user interface to set up the autonomous mission. Once done, the robot started its inspection mission including general visual inspection, digital readouts of analog and digital gauges, thermography and acoustic analysis of rotating equipment.
Also, the lidar-based localization of ANYmal has proven to be robust in offshore environments. After the success of this case, ANYbotics and PETRONAS started co-developing a specialized version of ANYmal for potentially explosive environments. We are targeting this solution to be in commercial use starting from next year, 2022.
Daniel: We are very much looking forward to integrating some of the newer products from Velodyne into our robots. The Velabit, with its super compact design and class-leading vertical field of view, looks like a very compelling offering that could increase the capabilities of our robots. I would also love to test the new Velarray H800 and its great range to be able to map bigger open spaces in a shorter time.
Finally, we are also aiming to significantly increase the number of ANYmals that we produce, and therefore having Velodyne as a partner with their experience in high-quality, high-volume sensor manufacturing is crucial for us.