Wireless operation of industrial robots

Wireless robotic control: Wireless mobile devices are being used for data access, programming, and live manipulation of industrial robotics. This includes mobile apps for supervision, programming, commissioning, and operation of robots.


Wireless mobile devices are being used for data access, programming, and live manipulation of industrial robots. The old phrase "this is not your father's (fill in noun)" has never been more relevant than it is now — especially when that noun is "robot." This is true across all robot-based platforms, from LEGO Mindstorms educational robots to heavy-duty industrial robotics.

Simulation software

Figure 1 shows alerts in mobile software for robotics. Central and key to wireless robotic functionality is ABB’s RobotStudio simulation software. Several mobile apps have been developed by ABB that allow supervision, programming, commissioning, and operaCentral and key to this functionality is robotic simulation software. Several mobile apps have been developed that allow supervision, programming, commissioning, and operation of robots. Four such apps to manage, jog, adjust, and tune are now available for download from the Microsoft Windows store, and all run on a Windows 8.1 tablet and an industrial touchscreen panel.

Numerous other advantages also come into play when considering Internet-based, or cloud, computing. One example is application developers will begin using a robotic software development kit (SDK) to build applications that address very specific needs within an operation. These applications can be posted in forums or in the Microsoft Windows Store, very similar to the way the Willow Garage project did with the Robotic Operating System (ROS) software. Program modules from libraries can be downloaded and integrated into an overall software project, potentially saving many thousands of dollars in supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), interface graphic user interface (GUI), and robot application development.

Wireless safety concerns

Figure 2 shows work object definition via a wireless interface. Application developers can use ABB RobotStudio SDK (software development toolkit) to build applications that address very specific needs within an operation. For security, ABB handles these cOn the subject of wireless access and operation of industrial robots, safety concerns are always at the top of the list for users and robot OEMs alike. These can generally be boiled down to the inviolable concept of single point of control. Blindly allowing program alterations, whether stored in memory or in real time, to make their way to a robot for unapproved execution is unconscionable in robotics. One way to handle these concerns is through a series of "mastership" activities that prevent writing logic, positional data, or jogging the robot without approval by a human standing at the robot. But access to data is allowed freely unless security measures are activated.

Wireless programming

Wireless technology for programming automated manufacturing systems is in its pre-embryonic stage. The seed has been planted through technology open houses, exhibitions, and seminars, but considerable validation and nurturing of the technology and safety methodologies must be accomplished before mainstream use in a factory environment. However, smaller companies, especially those owned and operated by the up-and-coming Generation Y, will be seminal to the acceptance of the new wireless robot control paradigm.

Nicholas J. Hunt is manager, product technology and support, ABB Robotics North America. Courtesy: ABB- Nicholas J. Hunt is manager, product technology and support, ABB Robotics North America. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering, mhoske@cfemedia.com.

Key concepts

  • Wireless mobile devices are being used for data access, programming, and live manipulation of industrial robotics.
  • Mobile apps allow supervision, programming, commissioning, and operation of robots. 
  • Development tools and online sharing will help with wider use of apps.

Consider this

What robotic functions would you be comfortable allowing wirelessly at this point? Continue the discussion with this article online.

ONLINE extra

See related robotic articles below.

See also www.controleng.com/robotics.

C.G. , FL, United States, 06/27/14 11:17 AM:

First off, you don't "operate" a robot the same way you "operate" a power tool. You can "interact" with robots. You can "collaborate" with them. But, to be a true robot, it's got to be autonomous, which means it operates itself. UAV "drones" are not really robots.

I'm working on a novel that explores what happens when bad guys hack into a robot's operating system and try to wrest control. Depending on how you program the robot in the first place, the outcome can be very different from controlling a drone, wirelessly or otherwise.
Paul , NH, United States, 06/27/14 01:13 PM:

This is scary... What about the E-Stop buttons that are on Robot Pendants now? Can't do that with wireless.
Mark , IL, United States, 10/09/14 04:38 PM:

Paul - Specialized wireless HMIs do offer e-stop functions. I've seen ones for general purposes, for robots, cranes, and even for out-of-cab control of locomotives with a "dead-man" switch in case the operator has a grabber or trips. As for an emergency stop linked to smart phone interface or tablet computer, every time I hear someone say, "That won't happen," it does. Yes, security is a concern, C.G., and I'm sure that's being addressed, as well.
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