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Inexpensive cleaning robots being developed to cater for growing market
A recent report issued by Allied Market Research indicates that the robotics market, which was valued at $26.78bn in 2012, will continue to grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate of 5.4% annually until the end of the forecast period in 2020 - something Toronto, Canada-based Great Rock Development will be catering for with its return to the robotic industrial cleaning market, through its subsidiary Cyberworks Robotics.
Drawing on over 30 years of pioneering experience, Cyberworks says it has again revolutionised autonomous robotic vision and guidance systems - this time redefining the way industrial space will be cleaned.
There are over three million floor scrubbers currently in use in the high wage G7 countries alone with an additional 350,000 new units sold annually. Each such unit is said to be ripe for automation through the installation of the add-on Cyberworks Intelligent Cleaning Guidance System, which can provide end-users a return on investment of about 12 months in most commercial environments.
The new navigation system utilises a new generation of RGBD sensor which combines the low cost of ultrasonics, the accuracy of laser, and the 3D performance of machine vision. Combined with recent advances in cognitive computing, this allows for low-cost complete coverage of very large and complex floor plans, never before possible. The system auto-generates a dense 3D point cloud of the entire building and triangulates its position within the building in real time, using natural features, while executing a mathematically-robust 'path plan' to clean the floor. Full height glass or mirrored surfaces can be edited into the map by a non-technical operator.
There is a one-time set-up mode, where the robot is guided through the building by a non-technical operator to learn the general structure of the building. The map can be easily edited by a non-technical operator to indicate no-go zones. The robot will determine the most mathematically-efficient optimised path plan, regardless of the complexity of the floor plan, and execute that path plan while adapting for new, unmapped obstacles or people in the area.
Accuracy and cost of a sensing system are key to practical realisation of autonomous robots in society. In the past, inexpensive sensors have proven unreliable, while reliable sensors have proven too expensive says Cyberworks. Competitive systems generally fall into one of three categories:
Ultrasonic: These are inexpensive but have poor angular resolution; hence, produce a 'fuzzy' view of the environment which negates the ability to work safely in close quarters to walls and equipment. Additionally, ultrasonics are subject to ray-geometry principles of reflection, such that objects positioned at acute angles to the sensor may be undetectable; hence, leading to occasional collisions.
Laser: These are more accurate than ultrasonics, but typically work on a 2D plane. Any objects located above or below that plane will not be detected, thereby resulting in occasional collisions. Additionally, lasers do not work well with transparent and reflective objects.
3D Machine Vision: These solve the problems associated with both ultrasonics and laser but have been prohibitively expensive.
Cyberworks' new sensor system uses a new sensory fusion approach combining the accuracy of traditional 3D Vision with the low cost of ultrasonics. It navigates to within 10cm of all walls and obstacles at a speed of 50cm/sec and can operate continuously for four hours.
"We were the pioneers in this massive market decades ago," explains Vivek Burhanpurkar, president of Great Rock. "Some 25 years ago Cyberworks worked with major companies in this industry to manufacture and sell autonomous robots for industrial cleaning.
"We are not interested in the consumer market where products like Roomba dominate. The industrial market is a totally different animal and we know the major multinational players within it. In the United States alone, commercial cleaning is a $25 billion dollar a year 'invisible niche industry' where 50% of costs are attributable to labour.
"We created this market, in partnership
with leading industrial companies, when we developed the world's first industrial robotic sweeper and the technology we have today is once again years ahead of the competition. Industry participants will now be able to retro-fit the Cyberworks Guidance System into existing fielded equipment, creating an inexpensive robotics machine."
15th October 2015