Presented by Infineon Technologies

Service robots don’t get the same kind of pop culture spotlight as humanoid robots and powerful industrial robots — but analysts agree that there are actually substantial opportunities in service robotics. In 2020, ABI Research forecast that the market for domestic robots would grow at 13% each year from 2019 to 2024, and reach volumes of 90.4 million units in 2025.

These useful yet prosaic robots handle chores such as cleaning floors and mowing lawns, gathering items from warehouse shelves for dispatch, making deliveries in highly structured environments, and assisting with repetitive tasks in process industries. Another type of service robot–– the collaborative robot or “cobot” — harnesses mechanical power and human intelligence in a shared working environment, although ensuring safe cooperation remains a serious design challenge.

According to recent ABI research, the market for mobile robots, such as the automated guided vehicles used in warehouses, is expected to grow 47% a year over the same period, to volumes of 2.4 million units in 2025. Meanwhile shipments of cobots, standing at 15,000 units a year in 2019, are expected to grow 48% a year to 171,000 units in 2025.

Addressing this market opportunity will be a challenge. Progress in robotics involves solving many hard problems at once, and then bringing those solutions together in a way that avoids creating new issues during their integration. For example, as robots start being woven into the fabric of Industry 4.0 implementations, they need to be given more intelligence and better communications to ensure that they can operate effectively within such collaborative contexts.

These robots will also need high levels of security, to protect the integrity of their communications and to ensure that they cannot be exploited by hackers. In all cases, and especially for cobots, ensuring both human and robot safety is paramount. A collision between a robot and a human could be a disaster. A collision between a robot and other robots or its environment may just be very costly — in terms of damaged equipment, lost productivity, and reduced confidence in automation.

Infineon offers many technologies that are particularly relevant to service robot development, including a wide range of motor-control devices, parts for battery-charging and power-supply systems, battery-management devices, human/machine interfaces controllers, and security and authentication systems. It also has experience in other relevant areas, such as application-specific microcontroller design, many sensing technologies, multiple connectivity options, and a variety of relevant memory types. In each area, Infineon has deep experience in applying the technologies, which customers can take advantage of to accelerate their design cycles.

In motor control, Infineon has an extensive portfolio of relevant parts and experience. It has four groups of microcontrollers that are uniquely suited for motor control applications: the PSoC™, XMC™, TRAVEO™ II and AURIX™ families. Each has its advantages. For example, Infineon offers highly advanced and flexible peripheral sets , along with software libraries for its XMC family that support simple-to-complex motor control needs. The PSoC™ family of microcontrollers have embedded flash and SRAM but rely on customers to write their own motor-control software. Parts in the AURIX™ family can have up to six processor cores and run at more than 300MHz. And members of the TRAVEO™ II family include a hardware security module, error-checking and correcting memory support, and functional safety qualification up to ASIL-B level.

Figure 1: Infineon’s motor control portfolio for service robots

If those are the brains of a motor-control system, Infineon’s switching devices and gate drivers provide the brawn. Infineon has more than 2000 different MOSFETs across its OptiMOS™ and  StrongIRFET™ families, operating in the 20V to 300V range and offering the dual advantages of low RDS(on) figures and a variety of high-performance packages.  These are matched by by the EiceDRIVER™ gate driver family,, which includes parts designed to serve four different types of switching device, with three different isolation strategies, in many circuit configurations for multiple applications – including, of course, robotics.

Infineon offers a wide variety of other relevant parts. It has parts that implement various combinations of Bluetooth, BLE, and WiFi connectivity options, with a variety of antenna configurations, bus structures, and operating bands. Infineon is also able to recommend matching microcontrollers, often from its PSoC™ family, depending on whether the design focus is on ultra-low power operation, range, user-interface needs, or more complex tasks such as sensor fusion and analytics. Infineon also has relationships with other players in the WiFi value chain, to make it easier for customers to get RF modules built and certified, sold and supported, or even included in finished products.

Another Infineon strength is its XENSIV™ portfolio of sensing options. This includes very small, highly accurate gas sensors, and low-energy yet high-resolution pressure sensors. There are MEMS microphones, which are tuned during manufacture to closely match their spec, so it is easy to use them in arrays to sense the direction from which sound is coming with high accuracy. And Infineon has three types of 3D sensor offer differing resolutions and effective ranges: radar; a time-of-flight sensor based on infrared, and ultra-sonics. There’s usually a trade-off between resolution and operating distance, but parts such as the infrared time-of-flight sensor have been engineered to deliver relatively high resolutions even at relatively long distances. Infineon also provides applications support for the parts, so that designers can quickly apply what may be an unfamiliar technology.

Additionally, there is Infineon’s OPTIGA™ Trust M security controller, which provides a way of providing advanced security for connected devices. Why is this important? We’ve already talked about the role that security has in protecting human and robot safety, but it is also worth noting that it can help protect robot manufacturers’ very considerable investment in the firmware their devices run. We see the impact of such investment very directly in the reviews for domestic robot vacuum cleaners: people will make buying decisions based on reports of the effectiveness of the cleaner’s routing algorithms.

The OPTIGA™ M controllers can protect such intellectual property investments by enabling security functions such as mutual authentication, secure communications, data protection, lifecycle management, power management, secure updates, and platform integrity protection. Infineon provides an evaluation kit for the OPTIGA™ M parts, as well as sample software to implement each of these functions.

Figure 2: Infineon’s product portfolio for service robots

Popular culture may have taught us robots are either eager-beaver factory automation types churning out cars all day and night, or humanoid robots that are, as yet, impossible to build and program to act as we see on screen. But the rise of service robots may soon bring us the advantages of automation anyway. If you’re thinking of entering the rapidly growing market for service robots, it makes sense to work with a supplier such as Infineon, which has a broad range of relevant parts, experience of using them in standalone applications, and a deep understanding of how such solutions may interact in larger systems.

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John Garcia is Director, Applications Marketing Motor Control for Battery Powered Applications and Robotics at Infineon Technologies Americas.  Nenad Belancic is Global Application Manager Robots & Drones at Infineon Technologies.

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