Intelligent robot systems are increasingly being used in disaster control, rescue missions and salvage operations – wherever it is too dangerous for humans. Robots that can look for survivors after an explosion, an earthquake or other natural disasters, or that can provide humans with a view of inaccessible regions, have become indispensable helpers. Powerful EC motors of maxon motor give the Japanese rescue robot “Quince” its drive.
Robots that are used in disaster areas have to have a very high level of adaptability. They have to be fairly small, not too heavy and manoeuvrable enough to get through cracks or narrow spaces to reach areas deep inside a building. Furthermore rough terrain should present no problem. These rescue robots enter and explore buildings to determine if there are gases, radiation or other life-threatening hazards, before human rescue teams can search the area. Quince has proven that it fulfils all these demands. After the severe earthquake in Japan and the subsequent nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Quince managed to reach the upper floors of the ruins of the power plant in June 2011. There it measured the radioactivity levels and sent HD images to the world outside (see QR code). The robot was able to supply valuable information from areas where no human can set foot.
Quince weighs 27 kg and is equipped with four moving caterpillar drives (flippers). These flippers automatically adapt their angular position to the surface underneath – regardless of whether the robot is climbing steep stairs or crossing rough terrain. Correct ground contact is a very important prerequisite. This contact is accurately analysed by measuring the power consumption of the flipper motors. Furthermore PSD (Position-Sensitive Device) sensors on the front and rear flippers measure the distance to the ground. In addition to a gripper arm (see fig. 2), two laser scanners can also be attached to the robot. These scanners are capable of accurately capturing the structure of the terrain.
Additionally Quince is equipped with a “bird’s eye camera” and can travel quite fast, at 1.6 meters per second. The operator that controls the robot has to tell it which direction to take, but the robot itself determines the optimal flipper positions for crossing various surfaces, for example stairs. Newer Quince motors have additionally been equipped with a device for collecting radio-active dust or ultra-fine particles, as well as a 3D scanner. To ensure that no robot is lost, a connection to a wireless network is possible, which is the only way to navigate the robot if the connection cable breaks.
The rescue robot was developed by Eiji Koyanagi, Vice-Director of the Chiba Institute of Technology Future Robotics Technology Center (fuRO). Koyanagi started his career as a teacher – at the age of 51, he became a professor. This means that he has a completely different background than other researchers in the field of robotics. Quince has been specially designed for extreme conditions in environments where it would be too dangerous for humans. Therefore its main area of application is disaster areas. “When you develop a robot, you first have to consider the tasks that it will perform later. That is the biggest challenge,” explains Koyanagi. Hitherto eight Quince robots have been built. But before this could be done, all components had to be 100% functional. To this end, various trials were run in the large “Disaster City” training area in College Station, Texas. Quince was the only robot that successfully completed the entire obstacle course at the site as part of a RoboCup contest. In preparation for using the robot inside the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, several specific customisations were required. “The conditions in the nuclear reactor buildings are very tough. If we had attempted to send Quince in without modifications, it would probably have met its end,” says Koyanagi. Therefore the robot had to be able to survive a fall from approx. 2 m high unscathed, and had to be largely maintenance-free.
Powerful motors to beat every obstacle
Where the motor selection was concerned, fuRO required absolutely reliable drives. The motors have to provide high power and high efficiency, yet be small and light. These requirements were precisely met by maxon motors, explains Koyanagi. Six powerful maxon motors drive the robot. The brushless EC-4pole 30 direct current motors each provide 200 W; two of these have been installed in the two main chains. The powerful 4-pole units give their all when Quince maneuvers its way across uneven terrain. Four additional motors (EC22) drive the moving chain drives (flippers). These can automatically adapt their angular position to the surface below. The 3D scanner unit of Quince is moved to the right position by an RE-max 24. Thanks to the special winding technology and the 4-pole magnets, the maxon EC-4pole drives are unbeatable when it comes to delivering the highest driving power per unit of volume and weight. The motors have no cogging torque, high efficiency, and excellent control dynamics. The metal housing additionally ensures good heat dissipation and mechanical stability. All motors of the chain drives have been combined with the GP32HP (High Power) planetary gearhead with MR encoder.
This gearhead was customised by installing a large ball bearing and a reinforced motor shaft. With this power pack, Quince has no trouble managing almost any obstacle.
A robot as agile as a snake can explore almost any hidden nook and cranny. Problems often occur in confined and hazardous spaces, and whilst these spaces are difficult for humans to work in, a snake-arm robot has no issue. Whether in aircraft assembly, nuclear power stations or the inspection of sewage systems: maxon motors are responsible for the high-precision movements of the multiple degree-of-freedom robotic snake-arm.
Just like in a science fiction film, the robotic snake-arm wriggles through a small hole. Its task: to perform a safety inspection in a hard-to-reach location, recording video as it does so. Very confined and hazardous spaces are common in many industrial sectors. Small spaces are not only difficult for humans to access, but these areas and the devices they contain also have to be inspected frequently. OC Robotics, based in Bristol (UK), looked at the world of animals for inspiration and developed the “snake-arm robot”. Managing director Rob Buckingham and technical director Andrew Graham developed the first prototypes in 2001. They have continued to this day to perfect the technology behind the snake-arm robot. The company was founded in 1997 and manufactures snake-like robots that are especially suitable for confined spaces and hazardous environments. The snake-arm robots have a slim, flexible design – they can easily fit through small gaps and circumnavigate obstacles with great skill.
Snake-arm robots have been used in aerospace assembly, in the nuclear energy sector, in medical technology and in security applications. Depending on the customer’s requirements, the snake-arm robot is available in different lengths and diameters. The standard sizes vary from 40 mm to 150 mm in diameter and have a length of 1 m to 3.25 m; if required, lengths of up to 10 m are possible, or diameters down to 12.5mm. The diameter of the snake-arm determines its functionality – the larger the diameter, the more weight the robot can lift.
Each snake-arm is customised specifically for the respective application. Furthermore, the “head” of the snake-arm robot can be equipped with various tools. OC Robotics offers tools for visual inspection with appropriate lighting and cameras, special gripper jaws or lasers for cutting metal and concrete (see video). Depending on the application, the snake-arm robot can be mounted on a stationary or mobile station such as an industrial robot or a gantry.
Always following its nose
The snake-arm is capable of performing a whole range of inspection and maintenance tasks, without any direct support from its environment. It can be navigated freely across open spaces. The robot is controlled by means of proprietary software which enables the operator to control the snake-arm by means of the “nose-following” principle. A command is transmitted to the tip of the snake-arm by means of a joypad and the rest of the joints follow this specified path. In other words, if the operator steers the tip clear of an obstacle, the rest of the snake-arm will follow suit. With this technology, it becomes a lot easier for people to work in hazardous environments, yet humans are not eliminated completely, explains Rob Buckingham, managing director of OC Robotics.
Brushless maxon DC motors for flexible movements
In a human arm, the tendons connect the muscles to the bones of the joints. Similarly, in the snake-arm robot, stainless-steel wires are connected to the individual joints of the robot like tendons. Each individual wire inside the snake-arm is connected to a maxon motor. The snake-like wriggling movements are the result of the motors transmitting the mechanical power to the snake arm, where the individual joints of the arm are located. Depending on the version, up to 50 maxon motors are installed in each snake-arm. These are not located directly in the arm, but instead in an actuator pack in the base of the robot. This is advantageous as the electronics are more easily accessible and not exposed to the confined and hazardous environments. Another area of use for the motors is the different tools for the snake-arm’s head. Here, one or two maxon motors are responsible for the movements of (for example) the gripper jaws or swage tool.
The biggest challenge to the drives is that they have to provide a high enough power output inside a compact design. Therefore, the brushless maxon EC-max 30 DC motor (60 W) and the ceramic version of the GP32 planetary gearhead are used for this highly complex application. Thanks to the brushless design, the electronically commutated DC motors are excellently prepared for long operating times. The heart of the maxon motors is the ironless winding – with the benefits inherent to the physical design, such as zero cogging torque, high efficiency and excellent control dynamics.
Special modifications were necessary for the motors used in the snake-arm robot. A special cable and fastening holes were required, whilst the maxon motor planetary gearhead was modified for the application and a special housing was developed for the brake. For OC Robotics, the reliable motors, good customer support, high quality and high power density were the decisive criteria for choosing maxon motor.
To achieve the highest possible level of comfort for air passengers, Lantal from Switzerland developed a pneumatic air cushion system. This system replaces the customary cushion foam with air-filled chambers. Powerful maxon flat motors take care of filling the cushions with air.
Long flights can be very strenuous for passengers – this makes an aircraft seat that offers all imaginable comforts all the more desirable. Swiss textile manufacturer Lantal from Langenthal has developed a pneumatic comfort system (PCS) that replaces the customary plastic foam in the seat cushions with air-filled chambers. These air-filled seat cushions provide comfort both in sitting and in sleeping position. The pneumatic seat cushion automatically detects the shape of the passenger’s body and the air-filled chambers adapt to the individual posture of the passenger. Simultaneously, the firmness of the cushion can be adapted individually – for instance, a bit more firm for eating or reading, less firm for relaxing and cosily soft for sleeping, with optimal firmness for full-body support. Thanks to the high adaptability of the air-filled chambers, the seat cushions eliminate pressure points, which are frequently a problem when sleeping or sitting on long-distance flights.
The comfort system has proven itself in more than 10 million passenger flight hours within three years on 27 aircraft. Since 2009, all Business and First Class seats in the long-distance aircraft of Swiss International Air Lines have been equipped with the pneumatic comfort system. Other large airlines, such as Lufthansa, have followed suit and will be offering their customers the comfort of the air-filled seat cushion system from 2012. The seats in this comfort class also have built-in massage systems that make the flight even more pleasant for the passenger. In addition to being able to offer the passengers more comfort, the airlines can also save weight – and thus costs. Because the seat cushions are much lighter than customary solutions.
Replacing the previously used foam in the aircraft seat with Lantal air cushions results in savings of 1.5 to 3 kg per Business Class seat and 3 to 5 kg per First Class seat. The lower weight reduces the operating costs of the air carriers, such as the use of fuel.
maxon motors make sure the air pressure is just perfect
The motors are a central component of the air cushion system. Each aircraft seat with integrated pneumatic air cushion system is equipped with a maxon motor. A single brushless maxon EC45 flat motor per seat drives the vane pump of the air cushion. By varying the filling of the air chambers, the passenger can steplessly switch between firm and soft settings. Additionally, an adjustable lumbar support with massage program is available. Another advantage is that the seat cushions with the air system have a higher life span than standard seat cushions. The EC45 flat motors that were chosen for the comfort system have an output power of more than 30 W and only weigh 75 g each – a very important criterion for use in aircraft. Lantal decided on maxon motors because they are not only small and powerful, but also, and in particular, highly accurate and reliable. And that is extremely important for achieving perfect comfort 10,000 m above the face of the earth.
Lantal’s comfort system flies in solar airplane
The pneumatic air cushion system is not only used in passenger aircraft – the technology is also in high demand for very special cockpits. Lantal supports the challenging Solar Impulse Project of Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg, as official supplier.
Inspecting flooded pipes of power plants requires skilled, high-precision handling. And the robotic vehicles have to be optimised accordingly, for example to dive 20 m deep. The new seawater manipulator is capable of ing underwater in pipes, where it can be used to perform inspections. RE motors by maxon motor are responsible for the dynamic drive of the robot.
In robotics, manipulators are those devices that enable physical interaction with their surroundings. For this interaction, the robotic vehicles are equipped with appropriate tools, gripper systems or measuring devices. In the case of the seawater manipulator, this equipment largely consists of high-performance cameras used for pipe inspection. Ibass, from Augsburg in Germany, develops, manufactures and distributes manipulators for various in-pipe applications: inspection, grinding, welding, retrieval or suction. The manipulators consist of a driving unit, the required work module and a camera. They are operated electrically and pneumatically and therefore drag along lines behind them. The target groups for these small robotic vehicles are primarily operators of power plants and refineries, as well as pipe manufacturers and assembly fitters of pipeline systems: “For example, we make perfectly executed welding seams during assembly possible,” explains Michael Strasser, managing director of Ibass.
The area of application of the seawater manipulator includes visual inspection of power plant coolant pipes that cannot be emptied (a task that requires a manipulator suitable for seawater use). Furthermore this type of manipulator is also used for applying inner coatings to pipelines, as sealed wheel units are absolutely mandatory for this application. The seawater manipulator developed by Ibass can manoeuvre and inspect pipes with inner diameters of 550 to 780 mm. This pipe diameter range is a result of the axial stroke of the pneumatic cylinder, or the deflection of the scissor-type mechanism.
The scissor drive works with a total of twelve wheels, two each per scissor side and drive motor, which give the vehicle a firm hold even in coated pipes, thanks to their variable contact force. For the drive, a total of six powerful RE motors are used in combination with planetary gearheads – one per wheel pair. The DC motors are characterised in particular by their efficiency of more than 90%, resulting in low energy consumption and a very high torque, which is an important prerequisite for this application. The motors furthermore are equipped with ironless windings and neodymium magnets, which enable maximum performance packed into a minimum size. The robustness and long service life of the maxon motors were decisive criteria for Ibass.
High motor robustness is vital, as the manipulator has to withstand the on-site conditions – for example, it can handle a pressure of up to 2 bar, this means that it can dive up to 20 m deep. It provides a tractive force of approx. 250 kg (2.5 kN) and the robot can drive a distance of up to 200 m into the pipe. The manipulators are equipped with lights at the front and back. At the front, there is a high-quality camera with pan-tilt head and a 10x zoom; at the rear a single-head camera is mounted. From grinding and testing to inspection and retrieval: The seawater manipulator can be fitted with all Ibass work modules and can overcome up to five pipe bends with ease (see Video). Motors and gearheads by maxon are not only used to drive the seawater manipulator. The work modules are also equipped with RE motors, for example for rotation and axial adjustment of the dye penetration unit. During the dye penetration test, the inner pipe surface is checked for cracks by means of a special method. The in-pipe manipulators are important tools for today’s industries and ensure more safety and reliability, for example in nuclear power plants and offshore wind parks.
Golf is becoming increasingly popular and has become a common recreational sport. In the spring and summer millions of people around the world head to the greens to work on their handicap or to just enjoy the game. A golf caddy is an indispensable companion. Motorised versions are particularly helpful.
The distances between holes can be far. The world’s largest golf resort “Mission Hills” with 216 holes (Mission Hills Club) is in Shenzhen in China, near Hong Kong. But there are even more extreme examples. In the Australian Nullarbor desert there is a very unusual “golf course”: Between the first and 18th holes lies a distance of some 1365 kilometres and on average, 80 kilometres must be traversed between the individual fairways. With these record distances “Nullarbor Links” is the longest golf course in the world. A motorised golf caddy makes golfing that much easier, even on historic golfing courses such as Crans-Montana in Switzerland.
Even when you don’t have to go on a mile-long walk to the next fairway, a motorised golf caddy can help you transport your golf bags. With a set of golf clubs, the bags get heavy fast. Electrical caddies are developed and produced by the company Jutec in the German city of Limburg an der Lahn. Since 1980, the German company has been developing and producing tube bending systems, which are used for professional and private use throughout the world. Since the end of the 80s, company founder Werner Jungmann, himself an enthusiastic golfer, has been producing small, elegant and collapsible golf caddies with a 3-spoke wheel. Based on this product, the first electrical caddy was developed, made out of stainless steel, in the original JuCad design, with motors hidden from sight. The small battery system is also hidden in the rear of the golf bag. In 2003 the company was a pioneer in the use of the rechargeable lithium battery technology in the electrical caddy sector. Since then, the technology has established itself in the electric caddy market. Since 2008, the company produces the caddies in the JuCad design as well as out of modern, high-strength carbon composites.
The best example is the “Carbon Drive” caddy, which consists of a full carbon-composite frame and is a lightweight among the electric caddies at only 5.5 kilograms. Nonetheless, there is no weight limit for the golf bag for this model. And after your round of golf is over, the caddy can be quickly and easily disassembled for transport.
Not only are carbon materials used for light electrical caddies. JuCad uses the noble, high-grade material titanium, which is also a very low-weight material. The “JuCad Drive SL Travel eX2” is made of titanium and weighs less than 5 kilograms in the two-wheel version. This is accomplished by further reducing the size of the motor axles, among other measures. This allows the caddy to be as narrow as a caddy with no motor and with its specially developed high-power motors it has plenty of power for any golf course. All JuCad electrical caddy models have a free-wheel, automatic forward function (distances of 10-20-30 m) and an electronic motor brake (speed control). The motors are supplied with power by the integrated, high-performance lithium batteries.
Powerful motors for quiet performance
Since the beginning of its development of motorised golf caddies, JuCad has used motors from maxon motor. The powerful traction drive demonstrates its strengths even on mountainous golf courses. It is of course important that these motors are very quiet while also being precise. The power density and the efficiency of the motors also play a key role. The energy-efficient RE DC motors from maxon motor fulfill all these requirements. The maxon RE35 motor used has an efficiency of about 90 percent. RE motors are equipped with powerful permanent magnets and have an ironless winding system, which ensures smooth operation with low cogging torque. Two maxon motors in the axle of the JuCad electrical caddy provide the drive function. A brief turn on the variable throttle grip is enough to start the caddy moving. For the smoothest, quietest operation possible, the shaft of the motors were geared specifically for this customised application.
The motorised caddy is a wonderful aid for many golfers, allowing them to save their energy for the game. In addition, a remote control can make it even easier for the golfer to move the JuCad golf caddy around. This makes it possible for the golfer to fully concentrate on the course and their next shot.
The company YLOG builds autonomous robots for transporting containers at logistics companies. The Autonomous Intelligent Vehicle (AiV) helps to cut energy costs and to optimise the use of space in the warehouse. The integrated maxon motors ensure that the free-moving AiVs are driven with precision.
In 2007, Heinrich Amminger and Martin Trummer from Austria had an idea for revolutionising warehouse logistics. They developed the automated small part warehouse – an intelligent and very environment-friendly logistics system that is winning an increasing number of customers for YLOG, a start-up company located in the town of Dobl close to Graz. Their warehouse logistics principle is easy to describe: The technology makes use of individual, freely moving vehicles (AiVs). The vehicles detect each other, observe right-of-way rules, recognise one-way routes and complete their tasks fully autonomously, without intervention from or coordination by a central computer. By using this new technology, potential for rationalisation can be revealed and costs saved. Other areas where robots have a big advantage over traditional systems are the price-performance ratio and energy consumption. Existing systems, even the modern ones, usually use storage and retrieval systems that move back and forth alongside the shelf to deposit and remove goods. YLOG offers the first solution that combines the container logistics of a small part warehouse with a transport system that uses vehicles that can move around freely. This warehouse type is used in 95 percent of all warehouses worldwide.
YLOG builds shuttles in different sizes, with swivelling wheels that are suitable both for warehouse logistics and transport logistics. Thanks to the on-board navigation system, the AiVs can compute a simple task to be executed and find their way through the shelves. Attention to detail characterises the development of the intelligent logistics system – for example, the transport vehicles are recharged with current during operation.
This is made possible by the fact that the approx. 50 kg shuttles do not need much space to manoeuvre. The transport vehicles have a rating of only approx. 100 W, therefore supercapacitors are used instead of rechargeable batteries. The big of advantage of these capacitors are that they can be charged in a matter of seconds. However, they cannot store as much electricity as rechargeable batteries. Thanks to this low power consumption, 200 robots can be operated with the same amount of energy as is consumed by a single conventional storage and retrieval system, which uses approx. 20,000 W on average. The decisive element of the logistics system is the control system: Although a centralised unit informs the robot which containers are to be fetched or deposited where, the robots steer themselves based on the programmed traffic rules. Thanks to this decentralised approach, even as much as 500 transport vehicles can travel around in a single warehouse.
maxon motors for high-precision steering
Motors and gearheads by maxon motor perform various tasks in the autonomous vehicles. Of the eleven axes on an AiV, nine are driven by maxon motors. The motors are responsible for controlling the wheels, as well as the movements for picking up and putting down the containers. Different customer-specific motor versions with gearheads are used. Each shuttle is equipped with nine motors in total. For example, four maxon EC max 30 motors are used as steering motors for the robotic vehicles. The swivelling wheels of the vehicles are moved to the correct position by the drive. The electronically commutated EC motors stand out with excellent torque characteristics, high power, an extremely wide speed range, and of course with a very long service life. In combination with the drives, maxon planetary gearheads are used (ceramic version). By using ceramic components in gearheads, the wear characteristics of critical components can be significantly improved. The advantages are a longer life span, higher continuous and short-term torques, as well as higher input speeds.
YLOG needed motors in different sizes, combined with the appropriate transmission ratios – and maxon was able to provide a perfect match for all their requirements. Another factor that convinced the young company to choose maxon motors was the individual, customised drive design offered by maxon, for example for the steering motors. To date, YLOG has already equipped nine warehouses with their transport system. The largest is currently being set up in a glass factory in Germany. Here, more than 52 AiVs go about their ways – that is a total of 468 maxon motors that transport several thousand warehouse parts from one location to another, every single day.