Boston, Massachusetts based non-profit centre MassRobotics has announced the release of what it claims is the world’s first open-source interoperability standards for autonomous mobile robots (AMRs).

The MassRobotics Interoperability Standard is designed to enable robots from different vendors to collaborate in factories, warehouses, and distribution or fulfilment centres, where competing platforms can make safe cooperation difficult.

Vendors that have adopted the standards will be able to badge their devices accordingly.

While many robots share the same programming languages, similar components, or common software libraries and development frameworks (such as ROS, the open-source Robot Operating System), overall interoperability standards have been lacking – a challenge that affects other robotics sectors too, such as autonomous vehicles.

As a result, fleets of robots from different vendors have lacked a common means of coordinating activities, sharing status information, or using the same operational conventions in each location, says the organisation.

The MassRobotics AMR Interoperability Working Group was formed in 2020 to address these challenges and simplify the adoption of AMRs in different sectors. Released this week, the standard is the first fruit of that industry collaboration.

Members of the working group include vendors Vecna Robotics, 6 River Systems, Waypoint Robotics, Locus Robotics, Seegrid, MiR, Autoguide Mobile Robots, Third Wave Automation, the Open-Source Robotics Foundation, and others.

According to this week’s announcement, the new standard also enables the creation of operational dashboards, so managers on the shop floor can gain insights from critical data, such as fleet productivity and resource usage, helping them to design better services.

“The release of version 1.0 of the MassRobotics Interoperability Standard is a crucial milestone for the industry,” said Daniel Theobald, CEO of Vecna Robotics and co-founder of MassRobotics.

“It’s this pre-competitive collaboration and combined thinking from the greatest minds in the field that drive the sector forward exponentially faster than any one vendor could otherwise.”

According to figures from supply-chain market intelligence provider LogisticsIQ, the global AMR and Automated Guided Vehicle (AGV) market – which includes devices such as cleaning robots and vehicles at airports or theme parks – will reach $14 billion by 2026, with more than 270 vendors focused on the manufacturing and logistics spaces.

AMR adoption alone is forecast to experience a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of roughly 45 percent between 2020 and 2026 and may be spurred higher by the pandemic.

However, a core challenge with most AMRs and AGVs is that the hardware is secondary to the services that robots supply. It is notoriously difficult to make money from selling the hardware alone, at least outside of robots for manufacturing or healthcare.

The lack of common standards has been an inhibitor to providing useful services, so moves towards interoperability should help the vendor community flourish through mutual advantage.

“Functional and practical standards are a critical next step for robotic automation,” said Tom Ryden, Executive Director of MassRobotics.

“Our AMR Interoperability Working Group has diligently focused on the development and testing of these standards, which are needed now, and we fully expect will evolve as the robotics industry and end-user companies implement them.”

The standard will be roadtested at a FedEx warehouse facility in Tennessee later this year, where AMRs from Waypoint Robotics, Vecna Robotics, and others, will be operating in the same production area.

“I applaud the Working Group for their efforts and dedication in laying out these first steps towards AMR interoperability,” said Aaron Prather, Senior Advisor at FedEx. “The diversity of the team shows that the industry can work together in finding solutions around this issue

“Our interoperability validation in Memphis will be a great real-world application of Version 1.0’s capabilities and will help to provide feedback to the Working Group to demonstrate what future steps may need to be taken to make further improvements.”

Source: Press release