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ANYmal C Robot has COMs for Brains

Written by Dan Demers

Meet ANYmal C: The ANYbotics-Designed Robot with Four Legs, Three Brains and Infinite Potentialities

ANYbotics is well-renowned for its highly autonomous and mobile robots that can navigate effortlessly through even the most difficult environments. Congatec’s Computer-on-modules (COMS) provide the brains for the compute-intensive tasks of the robot, which include situational awareness, motion control and mission fulfillment.

In the past, robots did not have situational awareness. However, as times progressed, sensor technology and computing capabilities became more advanced, so did the robots that slowly began transforming into non-stationary, self-reliant machines. This breakthrough is an exceptional achievement that can now allow robots to simultaneously take over responsibilities deemed too perilous for humans, and tirelessly perform routine duties with consistent efficiency. Much like the assembly line method, robots can fully automate certain processes and drastically reduce the need for manual labor, thereby considerably decreasing costs while increasing the number of projects that can be completed.

Unsurprisingly, the market for robot applications is growing rapidly in the 21st century and the overall global smart robot market is anticipated to boom with a CAGR of 23% from 2019 to 2024. These versatile robots can contribute to numerous fields including but not limited to energy, process, logistics, transportation, manufacturing in collaborative environments, agriculture and mining. Courtesy of its highly autonomous and mobile ANYmal C robots, ANYbotics proves to be a strong competitor in all these fields.

Generally, smart robots tend to function well in controlled and predictable spaces like warehouses or factory production cells. The ANYmal C robot, on the other hand, can self-direct and handle multiple duties, with high precision, in constantly changing human environments. To accomplish its goals, the mobile robot autonomously maps out the ideal path to a certain desired location and avoids potentially fatal accidents (without being commanded to do so) even when confronted with moving obstacles. Furthermore, it can rapidly adapt to various extreme environmental conditions like darkness, heat, snow, etc.

FIGURE 1: ANYbotics’s ANYmal C stands out because of its ability to perform in the same harsh surroundings a human can, including off-shore wind parks, oil rigs, mines and industrial facilities with numerous obstructions in the way (Photo courtesy ANYbotics).

SENSOR-DRIVEN ARS
Numerous sensors allow the Autonomous Robotic Systems (ARS) to collect this caliber of high precision data and analyze the different equipment and surroundings. This step is fundamental for ensuring that the robots can comfortably maneuver through industrial plants. Ideally, developers aspire to capitalize on the advanced mobility and autonomy of the robots by using them to carry out missions considered far too dangerous for humans, especially in high-risk settings like industrial plants and construction sites.

ARS require a Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM) system that can function well in challenging settings. The ARS then relies on this SLAM system to conduct a thorough investigation of its surrounding spaces and collect situational awareness data. This is made possible by means of multiple perception sensors that allow ANYbotics’s ANYmal C robot to successfully embark on its quest and continue navigating and path planning.

Stereoscopic optical cameras strategically placed on every side of the robot allow it to have a panoramic vision, which enables it to effectively gather terrain information and take heed of obstacles. The light detection and ranging (LIDAR) system facilitates further environmental data collection that can reach up to a range of 100 meters. ANYmal C also has two wide-angle cameras at the front and the back to support teleoperation and teach-in operation mode for dedicated pathways. Lastly, ANYmal C can be customized even more through the addition of a receiver (for global navigation satellite systems like GPS) that can help with outdoor expeditions.

FIGURE 2: Besides LIDAR for environment mapping and stereoscopic cameras for a 360-degree field of vision ANYmal C supports up to 10kg payload for additional sensors for inspection and other tasks
(Photo courtesy ANYbotics).

WALKING ON ALL FOURS
However, getting the state-of-the-art robot to “walk on all fours” requires a little more than just situational awareness for localization and mapping. For Anymal C to be able to move freely in all directions, real-time control of the advanced locomotor system is needed to also help the robot achieve up to 25cm high steps, climb industrial stairs up to 45°, and crawl into spaces tighter than 50cm.

Given that the ability to self-direct is the most important feature of ANYmal C, developers have designed it in such a way that it can be easily equipped with a sensor payload of up to 10kg and act autonomously for 2 to 3 hours. The first application-specific design of ANYmal C focuses on inspection tasks. It leverages a pan-tilt inspection unit consisting of an optical zoom camera to read measurements from analog gauges and meters, and check valves. It also has a thermal camera, that can detect if the machinery has any thermal anomalies or unwanted excess heat. Additionally, ANYmal C also has sensors to constantly test for possible gas leakages as well as an ultrasonic microphone to routinely conduct acoustic inspections that would help alert developers early on in case of any machine malfunctions.

The payload section is not the only flexible feature: The easily configurable computing part, capitalizes on a modular design based on three high-performance Computer-on-Modules from congatec. These modules can handle all of the duties simultaneously, with the highest efficiency and precision. Two of the modules embedded into ANYmal C are COM Express basic modules conga-TS370. With a total of 14 processor module variants, they offer OEMS an extremely wide scalability. Additionally, their computing power is also impressive: The 45W 6-core module with 2.8GHz Intel Xeon E-2276ME processor provides the highest computing performance with integrated high-performance processor graphics currently available worldwide. The third module is the conga-TC370 a COM Express Compact module comprised of an Intel i7 dual-core processor with virtualization to further separate the different subtasks on single cores.

congatec-TS370 _________________________ congatec-TC370

FIGURE 3: For each robot, ANYbotics uses three congatec Computer-on-Modules characterized by two distinct processor types: Intel Core i7 hexa core and low power dual core ULT. Workload consolidation occurs by utilizing the dedicated processor cores to carry out mapping, path planning, and real-time motion control. Finally, a third segment is saved exclusively for specific customer applications (Source: congatec).

COMs COMPUTING POWER
All three congatec modules provide the computing power crucial for advanced motion control, real-time mapping and autonomous navigation, and specific on-board customer applications. Because of the modular approach with exchangeable and highly scalable Computer-on-Modules, developers can select the best module with just the right price and performance balance for the specific task. This approach also allows future performance upgrades, which will enable it to fulfill even more complex tasks. This enhanced capability combined with the user-friendly, rugged, and fully dust and water proof IP67 design of ANYmal C allows it to take on numerous other challenging responsibilities as well, including but not limited to search and rescue (SAR), security controls, rescue after earthquakes, or even parcel delivery.

But why has ANYbotics chosen Computer-on-Modules and specifically from congatec? First of all, the intricate system designs of computer-on-modules (or COMs for short) made them the ideal choice for a simple and embeddable yet flexible platform complete with all the required firmware and drivers. These COMs offer the key building blocks of a PC such as CPU, RAM, high-speed interfaces and often also the graphics unit – all in a single and validated package. ANYbotics was able to focus their expertise on designing the application specific carrier board for their customized application.

By implementing a modular approach based on COMs, ANYbotics can conduct a very basic module change that would enable them to easily upgrade its ANYmal C robot in a matter of minutes to the latest processor technology instantly available on congatec COMs!

COLLABORATION: SMOOTH AND FUN!
The team at ANYbotics experienced how effortless and smooth the collaboration with congatec is and noted specifically how “the cooperation is excellent, reliable, and a lot of fun”. The ANYbotics colleagues were especially impressed with the local support and services offered. They also valued the congatec product portfolio comprised of comprehensive software tools, technical documentation, and a broad line card with a 10-15-year product lifecycle providing a consistent upgrade path for Computer-on-Modules and single board computers.

ANYbotics AG | www.anybotics.com
[email protected]

congatec | www.congatec.com


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Dan Demers is Director of Sales & Marketing, congatec Americas. Dan Demers holds a B.B.S degree in International Business from Grand Valley State University, Grand Rapids, Michigan and an M.B.A. from Ashford University, Clinton, Iowa. Mr. Demers has over 22 years of experience in embedded computing having worked with Fortune 500 companies in the Industrial, Medical, and Communications markets.

About the author

Dan Demers

Dan Demers is Director of Sales & Marketing, congatec Americas. Dan Demers holds a B.B.S degree in International Business from Grand Valley State University, Grand Rapids, Michigan and an M.B.A. from Ashford University, Clinton, Iowa. Mr. Demers has over 22 years of experience in embedded computing having worked with Fortune 500 companies in the Industrial, Medical, and Communications markets.