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The future of Robotics and Automation




We may not yet be travelling in driverless cars and have robot butlers at home, but in the past few decades, Robotics and Automation have evolved and grown dramatically (hopefully in some part due to Sentek Solutions!).
 
Reducing costs and improving productivity are increasingly important in today’s ever more competitive environment. Needless to say, Robotics and Automation can eliminate the tedium and improve the efficiency of many processes with the knock-on benefit of reducing running costs and improving profitability.
 
What do Robotics and Automation actually mean? We’ll walk you through the differences and outline ways they can help to improve operational processes. This is probably best addressed by turning things around.
 
What do we mean by Automation?
 
The definition of Automation is - the use of machines and technology to make processes run on their own without human input. For example, a car production line.
 
What do we mean by Robotics?
 
Essentially robotics covers the many different machines designed and built to enable Automation.
 
Really, Automation and Robotics go hand in hand. Returning to the car assembly line example; robots fulfil jobs that may have previously been carried out by people.
 
As well as completing tasks which would be considered dangerous, Robotic and Automated applications are cheaper, more efficient, make fewer mistakes and can run for 24 hours every day.
 
Also, we should not forget that robots can also carry out “superhuman” tasks impossible for mere flesh and blood. After all, how many people can pick up a car and move it with submillimetre precision or work in toxic inhospitable environments?
 
How can these technological developments help to grow my business?
 
If a task is routine, repetitive and uses the same components it can be easily automated. Clearly as with all such projects the business case needs to be justified (capital expenditure against operating costs savings) and payback period determined.
 
Other tasks which have elements of variability in the process, location or components need to use cleverer (autonomous /semi-autonomous) robots and of course, this increases the capital cost.
 
Critically this type of robot needs to be aware of its environment and/or communicate with other production line equipment so that it can alter its behaviour according to circumstances. This is where Sentek Solutions products come in.

Seeing what’s around
 
Our comprehensive range of LiDARs from Safety Laser Scanners to 3D devices like the Hokuyo YVT-35LX allow the host robot to understand the surrounding environment and even determine what component it will be working with.
 
This can be used to:
 
  • Determine location SLAM
  • If mobile; safely and efficiently avoid obstacles
  • Allow correct recognition and handling of a component, machine or person
  • Ascertain and execute the appropriate operation process


The Hokuyo UTM-30LX-EW is just one of many compact and powerful Hokuyo LiDAR scanners
30m range
Indoor/ Outdoor use
Ethernet connectivity
270º scanning window
0.25º resolution 
IP67 protection category
25ms scan speed
 
 
Knowing exactly where you are
 
Accerion’s Jupiter localisation system enable sub-millimetre positional accuracy, so an AGV/mobile robot can determine exactly where it is.
 
In an ideal world where everything is where it is supposed to be this allows the robot to identify and move to key locations where it can perform its required task. For instance, this can be used for returning the robot consistently to a loading point or a charging station.
 
Unfortunately, neither robots nor humans live in an ideal world. In these cases, this information can be used in conjunction with a LiDAR / Safety Laser Scanner which provides real-time information as to the AGV/ robot’s surroundings.
 


Accerion Jupiter Localisation module with Hokuyo UAM-05LP Safety Laser Scanner attached
 
Communicating with the outside world
 
Hokuyo data transmission devices have been developed specifically for use in fully automated environments.
 
The shorter-range parallel devices are used extensively in semiconductor manufacture where they facilitate communication between material handling robots and/or static “hand over” stations.
 
Longer range serial devices can communicate over distances of up to 200m with up to 100MB bandwidth. This type of device tends to be used in automated warehouses and logistic centres.
 

 
 Hokuyo BWF Series Data Transmission device
Up to 400m range
IP64 protection category
Full duplex operation 
Multiple interface versions available

What’s holding Robotics and Automation back?
 
Initial set up costs for automating projects can be high which may put off some businesses from making the initial investment. Luckily, our products are competitively priced and payback periods can be shorter than one would think.
 
People often believe that Robotics and Automation can only be used in the manufacturing and logistics sectors. This is not the case many different categories of robots have been developed from health care to public service and disaster management. At Sentek Solutions we have many customers who have applications in a wide variety of industries. For Robotics and Automation to proliferate companies need to be innovative and “think out of the box”.

How can you use this technology? Drop us an email and let us know!
 
You can browse all our products for Robotic applications here.
 
All our products that can be used in Industrial Automation are here.
 
To find out how our products could help you improve your business by using Automation, just give us a call. We’re always happy to give information on any of our products or talk about your ideas.
 
Stay up to date with all of our news and developments by following us on Twitter.

We will be exhibiting at the SPS IPC Drives in Nuremberg on November 27. -29.11.2018. You will find us at stand 7A-101. If you would like to see our product demonstrations then it would be great if you were to visit us!
 
 
 
 
 
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Using a Hokuyo LiDAR to win the RoboRace!



At the end of 2017, we were approached by Johannes Betz, a post-doc researcher from the Technical University of Munich and the Chair of Automotive Technologies. He and his team were preparing to undertake an exciting research project in the area of autonomous and self-driving vehicles with the ultimate aim of taking part in the RoboRace (roborace.com).

In order to help with the project, the team needed a Hokuyo LiDAR device and reached out to Sentek for support. As it was such an exciting project and Sentek have a long stand relationship with TUM and their spin-off companies, we were happy to give our support to the help.

Here is what Johannes had to say when we asked him about the project and how the Hokuyo LiDAR performed and aided the project….        
 


Our team consists of 2 Professors, 6 PHD students, and 25 normal students. We had 3 sub-teams working together on the project. One team for Planning, one team for Perception and one team for Control. These are all key processes in autonomous driving.


The team at the RoboRace event.

Our goal was to develop and evaluate algorithms for those three parts of autonomous driving. In addition, we planned to develop and evaluate additional specific algorithms like a prediction of the adhesion factor, detection of obstacles and planning / implementing a complete and successful race strategy.

Preparing for the RoboRace:

We began with the development of the software in December 2017, our first competition with Roborace was in May 2018 at the Formula E Event in Berlin so we had plenty of time to prepare.

The development was split into three parts:

1: Simulation of the race environment: We used the Roborace simulator

2: Real world testing with the RoboRace DevBot vehicle at the race headquarters in Banbury. England: We did this testing every month and although it was crucial for the development and evaluation it took up a lot of our time and budget.

3: Smart (small) scale testing at the University: This important stage is where we built an autonomous remote controlled car which featured the Hokuyo LiDAR.

The autonomous RC car: In cooperation with some students we built an autonomous RC Car.

This autonomous RC car was a 1:10 scale of a full-sized electric car. Ultrasonic sensors, a stereovision camera and the Hokuyo UST-20LX LiDAR were used to convert the car into a fully autonomous vehicle.


The autonomous remote controlled car featuring the Hokuyo LiDAR.

We used the LiDAR on the remote-controlled car to test our SLAM and Mapping algorithms that we planned to use on the full-sized car. During the project, students used the Hokuyo LiDAR for research. We had 10 Students working with the LiDAR and some are still working with it (Bachelors, Masters, Semester Thesis). Here are some of the projects students are undertaking:

a) Evaluating the performance of different SLAM algorithms and different LiDAR devices.

b) Controlling the car just on range (distance) detections with the LiDAR.

c) Writing SLAM algorithms that process the LiDAR information with GPU power based on the Nvidia Jetson.

d) Writing a sensor fusion algorithm for combining LiDAR and camera information.

e) Writing a sensor fusion algorithm for combining LiDAR and ultrasonic information.

f) Writing a simple scan matcher with LiDAR data only.

g) Writing an algorithm for object detection based on LiDAR and camera data.


LiDAR and camera data.

h) Writing an algorithm for object movement predictions based on LiDAR data.

While using the LiDAR we discovered that when compared to other LiDAR devices we have used the Hokuyo performed the best by far. It’s data performance regarding LiDAR points, velocities and distance data are far more accurate and consistent. On top of its performance, the Hokuyo LiDAR is also much more robust than similar devices. The Hokuyo LiDAR was crucial in helping us complete the project successfully. The LiDAR enabled us to develop a platform for autonomous driving and aid with learning development for PHD students and undergraduate students. It also helped with the acceleration of the complete LiDAR environment development e.g. Mapping, SLAM algorithms and object detection. The LiDAR was crucial for support with the development of software for the RoboRace using the full-sized car.

The RoboRace Event:

In the RoboRace event, we were competing against a team from the University of Pisa. Both teams had to drive the Robo-car around the track three times around the 2km track with a human at the wheel and another three times using only software and no human driver. The time of the second lap of each round is averaged and the team who had the fastest average time won the event. All of our time spent using the LiDAR, doing research, producing algorithms and testing with the autonomous remote-controlled car paid off. We won the RoboRace! Our average lap time was 91.59 seconds which was nearly four seconds faster than the University of Pisa’s time.
 
Alongside the completion of the Roborace project, we have started a brand-new course at the University. It’s called Artificial Intelligence in Automotive Technology. It’s a practical and theoretical course which gives students the opportunity to learn everything about self-driving cars and deep learning. In addition, they are going to code everything on their laptops. At the end of the course, the students are tasked with programming the code for a self-driving “remote controlled” car. The Hokuyo LiDAR is used throughout this course.

Johannes Bets, M. SC.
Chair of Automotive Technology
TUM Department of Mechanical Engineering

Technical University of Munich.
https://www.ftm.mw.tum.de/en/home/




If you would like to find out more about this project or about how Hokuyo LiDARs can be used for academic research, autonomous driving or any other application then do not hesitate to contact us.

Browse our full selection of Hokuyo LiDARS here. 
 
Alternatively, if you have any stories you want to share with us please contact info@sentekeurope.com 

Follow us on Twitter here and find out which exhibitions we will be at here.
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LiDAR or Radar?



Which method of detection can benefit your application needs the best?
 
Industrial automation and the rise of the robot continues to hit the headlines. Devices such as LiDAR scanners and Radar obstacle detectors are making this automation possible, but which one suits your application needs the most?
 
Read this blog to find out more about the LiDAR and Radar solutions Sentek offers, and how they can help your application to succeed.
 
What is LiDAR?

LiDAR is generally accepted to be a 2D/3D laser based map making technology and stands for Light Detection And Ranging. Its uses are broad, to say the least, from driverless cars to deforestation mapping.
 
LiDAR is sometimes described as Laser Scanning and LiDAR devices can be called Laser Range Finders.
 
Hokuyo manufactures a vast array of powerful, compact and lightweight LiDAR devices and Sentek is the European distributor of these products.
 
How does LiDAR work?

Now for the science bit!
The LIDAR transmits a rotating invisible infra-red laser beam. Don’t worry its entirely eye safe! The beam is reflected off surrounding objects and captured by the sensor. Combining rotational position and time for transmission/reflection gives a point map of the surrounding environment.
 
Hokuyo LiDAR devices use a stationary laser and a rotating mirror. The faster the mirror rotates, the quicker the scan speed/refresh rate. The tricky bit is making sure that the mirror is always precisely where it should be otherwise output data is not accurate. The fastest Hokuyo device has a scan speed of 100Hz. That’s 100 rotations every second.
 
Standard devices will only provide data for the “strongest reflection” whilst multi-echo technology can return information for up to four reflections. This is useful when looking through a window or if weather conditions (fog, rain or snow) obscures the view. Having said this if we cannot see nor can the LIDAR.
 
 
How multi-echo works

Otherwise, LIDAR devices are classified according to their range and their resolution (angular and distance accuracy)
 
Where can LiDAR be used?

The US Geological Survey and NASA have been using LiDAR to make maps of Earth and space for decades. Climate scientists use it to probe the composition of the atmosphere and study things like clouds and global warming.
 
The uses of LiDAR are enormous. One of the most exciting things about LiDAR is that every year here at Sentek we hear about new uses for it.
 
We meet people at exhibitions or get enquiries from companies who have found a new way of using our LiDAR devices. And as the technology improves, we think the uses will keep growing, especially with developments such as the YVT-35LX 3D LiDAR scanner, outlined in our previous blog.
 
Here are just some of the ways our Hokuyo LiDAR scanners are currently being used:
 
•          Obstacle detection and object measurement
•          Industrial automation
•          Navigation and localisation for robots
•          Geospatial mapping
•          Driverless vehicles
•          Architecture
•          Security
•          Safety in factories and warehouses
•          University teaching and research
 
                    
 
Some examples of Hokuyo LiDAR applications

Our products

There are a vast number of Hokuyo LiDAR devices all with different specifications.
 
You can browse our entire selection of LiDAR scanners here
 
You might find this video of one of our Directors, Adam, discussing Hokuyo LiDAR scanners and their uses.
 
 
 What is Radar?

Radar was originally developed to detect enemy aircraft during World War II, but it’s now widely used in everything from police speed-detector guns to aeroplane navigation.
 
 How does Radar work?

Radar works by a sensor emitting a radio wave and then receiving the reflected wave when it bounces back from solid objects.
 
The radio waves used by radar are produced by a piece of equipment called a magnetron. Once the waves have been produced, an antenna, working as a transmitter, hurls them into the air. The radio waves travel outward from the antenna at the speed of light (186,000 miles or 300,000 km per second) and keep going until they hit something. Then some of them bounce back toward the antenna in a beam of reflected radio waves also travelling at the speed of light.
 
 Unlike LiDAR which sends out its laser on a 2D plane, Radar devices emit their radio waves in a cone shape, which expands over distance.
 
At Sentek, our Radar Technology devices, RadarRanger from PPT, are Frequency Modulated Continuous Wave (FMCW) radar sensors designed for collision avoidance applications on cranes, mobile cranes or vehicles.
 
Each sensor can transmit commands to stop and slow down, for example, and other commands for deceleration. In addition, the specific values needed are preprogrammed to suit the intended use.
 
Manufactured in robust housings the sensors are unaffected by rain, snow, fog or frost, which means they provide reliable and accurate information in many diverse environments.
 
Where can Radar be used?

The PPT RadarRanger is ideally suited for the harsh environment and high-reliability requirements of busy container ports. In busy ports safety and efficiency are key and when a break in production is expensive RadarRadar obstacle detectors are the perfect solution.
 
Applications include crane to crane and crane to object detection on Ship to Shore, RTG and RMG type cranes.
 
Large reach stackers and straddle carriers often have blind spots or areas that are difficult for the operator to monitor when moving freight. The RadarRanger sensors offer an additional set of eyes to help avoid collisions and ease movement in tight spots.
 
                    
 
How Radar Ranger devices can be used in Port crane applications

The RadarRanger sensors have a variety of distance and beam angle options to suit most applications and, with thousands of units already in operation throughout the world, they have a proven track record.
 
Their robust housings mean that where other sensors fail or atmospheric contamination causes detection problems and maintenance issues, the RadarRanger sensors provide a constant reliable, collision avoidance system second to none.
 
Large reach stackers and straddle carriers often have blind spots or areas that are difficult for the operator to monitor when moving freight. The RadarRanger sensors offer an additional set of eyes to help avoid collisions and ease movement in tight spots.
 
Our products

You can browse our full selection of Radar obstacle detectors here
 

Both LiDAR and Radar sensors provide numerous industries with fantastic capabilities. One isn’t better than the other but some jobs will need a LiDAR scanner, while other operations will benefit from a Radar sensor. If you’d like more information about how both products can add value to your business, just give us a call.
 
We’re always happy to provide information on any of our products, just drop us an email if you’d like to know more.
 
Stay up to date with all of our news and product developments by following us on Twitter.
 
 
 
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New opportunities with 3D LiDAR scanning



The new Hokuyo YVT-35LX  3D LiDAR scanner is now available and we’re excited about the countless industry opportunities that it can be used for.
The Hokuyo YVT-35LX
 
To date Hokuyo’s scanners have only had the functionality to scan on a flat 2D plane, but the YVT-35LX is their entry into the 3D LiDAR scanning arena and offers a credible alternative to current options available from Velodyne and Sick.
 
 Instead of using multiple Hokuyo LiDARs, computing power & external devices like ‘pan tilts’, the YVT-35LX can provide point cloud data all by itself.
 
Wondering what point cloud is all about? Well it’s a very accurate digital record of an object or space. It’s saved in the form of a very large number of points that cover surfaces of a sensed object. This technology helps AGVs navigate warehouses far more effectively as the view is enhanced from 2D to 3D, eliminating the likelihood of collision.
 
The YVT-35LX scanner has an IMU sensor which lets the user gather a data-rich point cloud. In one frame, a point cloud can be generated with 2,590 points. The point cloud density can be increased further using the interlacing mode too.
 
What point cloud data produced by the YVT-35LX will look like 

With a wide field of view, the YVT-35LX gives you a 210° horizontal and a 40° vertical scanning angle. And the detectable range is 35m to the front and 14m to the sides (further with reflectors). To process the data easily, the scanner has Ethernet connectivity, which enables faster data transfer.
 
The scanner’s IP67 protective structure makes it suitable for use in various environments. Plus, the multi-echo system, also a feature of other high-end Hokuyo LiDAR scanners, means that a point cloud can be created outside, even in fog, mist or rain.
 
 How the Multi-echo function works

Here are just some of the applications for the Hokuyo YVT-35LX 3D LiDAR scanner:
 
  • Detecting surroundings for robots.
  • Container profiling and positioning at busy ports.
  • Obstacle detection and pallet shape on forklift trucks.
  • Smart farming and agriculture.
  • Depth measurement in the construction industry.
  • GEO mapping.
  • Counting people at building entrances/exits.
 
With this scanner’s capabilities, we believe that it can provide a range of industries with new ways of working. For more information on the scanner’s specifications, click here.
 
To find out how this product could add value to your business, just give us a call.

We’re always happy to provide information on any of our products, just drop us an email if you’d like to know more.
 
Stay up to date with all of our LiDAR news and developments by following us on Twitter. Or you can sign up to our mailing list to recieve all of our future blogs as soon as we post them, but don't worry we won't spam you! 
 
 
 
 
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Hokuyo LIDARS are the driving force behind the GEO sector



Sentek Solutions have worked with several customers to supply the hardware component of sophisticated mobile / handheld digital mapping solutions.
 
Digital technology is changing the way we design, construct, and maintain our infrastructure. For engineers and surveyors, mobile mapping means that buildings or sites can be mapped more safely and quickly. Delivering significant savings in terms of man power and time.
 
Before these solutions became available creating accurate dimensional interpretations of 3D spaces (especially irregular ones) was almost impossible or at the worst extremely expensive and time consuming.
 
And it’s not just the engineering and construction sectors that are benefitting from this new technology. These solutions are also being used in mining, agriculture and forestry.
 
Most mine environments are hazardous, and mining professionals need to work in tight, enclosed spaces, where GPS coverage is non-existent. Mobile mapping devices allow accurate measurement of underground or open cast excavations facilitating a safer, more efficient and cost-effective approach.
 
Globally projects are underway to track tree growth, optimise fruit yields and guide ecological forestry management. Here GPS assisted geospatial mapping is an invaluable tool.
 
The work horse component in many of the market leading mobile mapping solutions is the Hokuyo UTM-30LX a small and light 30m two-dimensional LIDAR which provides critical distance data.
 
 
The UTM-30LX: The power house of mobile mapping

Capturing 2D data and accurately “layering” it up to form a 3D “Point Cloud” involves multiple sensor inputs, clever algorithms and significant computational power. Doing all of this and packaging it into a user-friendly solution is delivered by our innovative customers.
 
We believe the availability of the Hokuyo LIDAR range particularly the UTM-30LX family has been transformational in this this sector.
 
Thanks to these ground-breaking solutions information previously only available to those with very deep pockets is now more accessible, optimising processes, improving safety and delivering efficiencies across the board.
 
Imagine you can now accurately map a three-storey building in less than an hour!
 
If you have a transformational idea which could use our technology, please give us a call or drop us an email.

Stay up to date with all of our LiDAR news and developments by following our Twitter here.
 
 
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Showcasing the future of robotics




LogiMAT 2018
 
 The Sentek and Accerion team at LogiMAT
 
In March, we were in Stuttgart for LogiMAT, the biggest exhibition in Europe for warehouse logistics. It gives visitors a comprehensive review of all the main themes in the sector, from procurement to production and deliveries.
 
This year, we showcased the Hokuyo UAM-05LP Safety Laser Scanner. It’s specifically made for the European AGV (portable robots) market and is the smallest Safety Laser scanner available. The scanner uses a laser to navigate floor spaces, such as a warehouse or factory production lines as well as providing certified area and personnel safety.
 
Our other Hokuyo LiDAR scanners made for distance measurement, obstacle detection, navigation and data transmission, had their time in the spotlight too. These products can be used in a variety of applications, for example, to give mobile robots vision, for localisation or for mapping.
 
It was a busy few days but a great show and we’ll be going back in 2019.
 
LogiMAT was also a chance for us to launch the new Accerion Jupiter module which got a lot of interest.
 
What is the Accerion Jupiter?
 
Accerion is a Netherlands-based company, which builds technologies to help robots. It’s developed a product – the Jupiter – that delivers accurate positioning, inside or outside, without the use of infrastructure, and it can be integrated into new and existing vehicles.
 
A challenge when using AGVs is effective navigation. You can’t use GPS indoors, and other options are expensive and need magnet tape, RFID labels or navigation markers to run on. The Jupiter can provide accurate localisation and navigation in large spaces, such as warehouses and shipyards. When used with the Hokuyo Safety Laser Scanner, it can achieve a high level of safety.
 
Seen as the future of navigation technology, the Jupiter uses the floor surface as a reference, and combines relative and absolute positioning. All this means you get a robust product and sub-mm accuracy.

Take a look at the Accerion Jupiter module here.
 
 Here is the Jupiter module attached to a mobile robot
 
How can this help my business?
 
Accerion is a new partner of Sentek Solutions, so we can offer demonstrations of the new Jupiter technology. Just give us a call or drop us an email for more information.
 
Robotics continues to integrate into how we live and work, so we’re always happy to talk you through which products could add value to your business.
 



You’ll also be able to see us at the FTS Forum in Dortmund during September, then the SPS IPC Drives show in Nuremberg during November.

In the meantime, you can find us on LinkedIn here, and follow us on Twitter here.
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