March 19, 2021
As industrial automation continues to experience rapid growth, consensus safety standards are critical to helping the industry to know whether industrial mobile robots are safe. These standards in turn assist technology vendors develop solutions that follow universally accepted best practices for safety.
Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) are a rapidly-growing segment of industrial automation that have lacked universally-accepted definitions and their own safety standards. The recent release of “For Industrial Mobile Robots – Safety Requirements” ANSI/RIA R15.08-1-2020 (R15.08) offers clarity on the definition of an AMR and how to apply safety standards to different types of mobile robotic systems.
Before R15.08, mobile robots applied ANSI B56.5-2019 (B56.5) as their safety standard across the board. This standard was originally released in 1978 to address safety for Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs). With its AGV roots, B56.5 initially focused on making sure the AGV stopped if it deviated from the intended path, or encountered an obstacle.
However, with the advent of Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs), a grey area emerged. AMRs do not follow a strictly-defined path. They can also navigate around obstacles or reroute to alternative paths instead of stopping for blockages. B56.5 continues to be a useful standard that still applies to a broad range of automated vehicles. Recent updates to ANSI B56.5 have recognized that current robotic systems can dynamically plan their path and do so safely. However, its history as an AGV standard created ambiguity on its applicability to AMRs. Indeed, many AMR vendors chose to forego ANSI B56.5 compliance altogether. This is why we have become familiar with collaborative AMRs – or smaller robots – that can operate within inches of humans.
For a downloadable chart on the technical differences between AMRs and AGVs, click here.
In addition to ambiguity around relevant safety standards, the industry did not fully agree upon the definition of AMR technology. Some AGV suppliers argue what constitutes an AMR is their use of lidar-, vision-, and/or fiducial-based navigation systems combined with lower infrastructure requirements versus the older magnet- and wire-guided AGVs. On the other hand, many customers refer to smaller, lightweight, deck-load mobile robots (used for order fulfillment applications) as AMRs, while referring to any high-capacity vehicle such as tuggers and forklifts as AGVs – regardless of the navigation technology.
R15.08 defines an AMR as a platform that dynamically plans and adjusts its path within a structured or semi-structured environment. The standard subsequently offers updated safety standards around these adaptive navigation functions.
Additionally, the standard provides a helpful framework for understanding which safety standard to use for which robot platform. It also clarifies vehicle type based on intelligence and path planning capabilities rather than size, payload capacity, or localization method.
The committee that produced R15.08 included expertise in industrial robotics, AGVs, AMRs, and industrial safety from US-based organizations, including the American National Standards Institute and Robotics Industry Association. US-based users of this technology should ensure that their automation vendors comply with the relevant standards.