Robots have been a staple of science fiction (and myth!), with ever increasing capabilities that match or exceed their human counterparts. In reality, robots certainly perform some tasks better and quicker than humans, and as AGI (artificial general intelligence) is further developed, robots will be able to perform a wider range of tasks while handling a wider variety of inputs.
The most common historical use case of robotics has been in manufacturing - OEMs such as ABB, Fanuc, and Kuka have produced industrial robots for decades, helping automate all manner of industrial tasks such as installation or assembly of parts, welding, etc. Based on the compute capacity/hardware stacks and programming available (e.g. ladder, structured text, function block diagram, etc), these robots performed their limited tasks well.
In today’s landscape, the evolution of software development in the 2010s has propelled robotics beyond manufacturing. A new breed—the Advanced Mobile Robot (AMR)—offers enhanced navigational abilities, liberating them from fixed locations and expanding their range of movement within environments.
Recognizing their potential, venture capital and corporate development have poured funding into robotics startups. These startups tackle diverse applications, spanning retail (Locus Robotics), warehouse logistics (Kiva—now part of Amazon), food delivery (Cartken), and agricultural domains, both indoor (Plenty.ag) and outdoor (Blue River Technology). The surge in M&A activity signals a strategic move by multinational organizations to incorporate innovative robotics solutions in-house.
While we’re still a ways out from robots having a funnier sense of humor than humans as they do in the movies, these complex software-driven electromechanical assemblies are some of the toughest products to get out to market purely on a hardware engineering level. Components require precision machining, in-process quality control with CMM inspection to ensure high yields, and there are still the industry and compliance requirements depending on the type of robot.
1) IATF 16949 for autonomous vehicles
2) ISO13485 for surgical/medical robots
3) AS9100D for drones or UAVs
Further, robotics startups have the added challenge of the capital intensity of prototyping. With all of these barriers and hurdles to overcome, robotics teams now require (more than ever) tools and processes that enable them to move and release their products to market more quickly. Common challenges any hardware team needs to overcome include:
1) Design engineers overriding each other’s work resulting in increased time spent on design
2) Maintaining a central source of truth that is easily accessible to promote cross-functional collaboration
3) Finding tools that facilitate internal processes, such as approval and release management, for designs
Breaking these down further - ideal tools need to facilitate:
1) Effective file management - ensuring organized data across complex product information
2) Streamlined collaboration - make decisions quickly by sharing and collaborating on files, whether with internal users or with external like suppliers or customers
3) Conducting and storing results of decisions - maintaining a traceable and historic record of project evolution
4) A UI that is not complex to learn - enabling teams to spend more time designing than learning new systems
Explore this case study to learn how Motivo, a product development consultancy, harnessed Bild to address these challenges in expediting robotics products to market.