I was able to witness the first public demonstration of the new MassRobotics interoperability standard, during the 2021 A3 Automate AMR and Logistics Conference, in Memphis, TN. The demo was organized by FedEx, and took place at the FedEx DART lab. The DART lab is where FedEx tests all new logistics automation solutions as they evaluate the feasibility of new solutions and measure the impact to FedEx operations.
The companies involved in the demonstration included: Vecna Robotics, Waypoint Robotics and WiBotic Autonomous Charging. Special thanks goes to FedEx R&D director, Aaron Prather, who’s responsible for the DART lab and who help coordinate the demo companies.
The demonstration included three key elements:
1. The facility map was created with a Vecna mobile robot and shared via the standard to the visualization app created by Waypoint. All of the robots moving throughout the facility were shown in the visualization app. The MassRobotics Interop standard defines an API to scale, orient, and locate the dots (on the map) relative to each other and within the image.
2. All of the robots and charging station locations were visible on a single facility map. The map was updated in real-time.
3. The WiBotic wireless charging stations were available to all of the robots in the facility and able to charge at the rate and specification for each individual robot.
The video below captured the demonstration.
Full disclosure for Daniel Theobald: in addition to founding Vecna robotics, he is also co-founder and currently the president of MassRobotics. In his role as president of MassRobotics, he serves as chief evangelist and advocate for automation and robotics. In the demonstration, Daniel highlights the basic interoperability functions that he believes will be important for any heterogeneous fleet of AMRs.
The demonstration is dead simple: sharing a map and vehicle locations.
What’s brilliant about the demo is that it hides a lot of complexity AND erodes the position of propriety information taken by many AMR vendors. There is never going to be a world in which one robot vendor dominates at a given facility. As an end user, you shouldn’t expect to deploy only a single vendor of AMRs within your facility.
Until now, most vendors have not taking the time and energy to consider a generalized standard for sharing facility map and vehicle location data. Industry leaders like Aaron Prather of FedEx were instrumental in bringing competing interests to the table and “encouraging” them to play nicely.
What does the future hold?
Consider interoperability standards like the MassRobotics initiative to be table stakes for any AMR vendor that you might consider from this point forward. The only reason a vendor has for making this information proprietary is greed – and greedy vendors don’t make for great partners.
This is only the beginning for interoperability standards. The MassRobotics interoperability standard will continue to evolve, as will others in the industry.
Waypoint Robotics was recently acquired by Locus Robotics, and you can expect that both organizations will standardize on the MassRobotics standard.
You can join the MassRobotics Interoperability Working Group and contribute to its evolution.
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