October 01, 2013      

Axon is a revolutionary add-on kit that is able to transform ordinary wheeled platforms into intelligent AGVs. It has two features that make it stand out from other autonomous navigation products – CloudNav and a bolt-on modular design.

Autonomous navigation is a key enabler for the widespread use of robotics in the consumer market and industry. However, this capability is costly as the associated algorithms are computationally intensive and require much processing and power requirements. Powerful onboard computers that run these algorithms, in turn, draw a great deal of power from the onboard batteries. The end result is an increase in platform size, which would then make it difficult for the platform to go into smaller spaces.

To overcome this challenge, Axon uses our proprietary cloud navigation engine, CloudNav, to offload the most computationally intensive algorithms to the cloud in real-time, so as to keep the hardware cost and power requirements low. Axon is connected to a wireless network (e.g. 4G, wifi) at a reasonably fast speed (~1Mbps). It sends pre-processed data (such as that of visual odometry, lidar scans, inertial motion estimation, wheel encoder readings, etc.) to the CloudNav server to carry out the necessary computations.

The CloudNav server then sends the updated state estimate back to Axon. A cost-effective and power-efficient ARM embedded processor is used on Axon to perform the wireless communications. Due to the varying latency and bandwidth of the wireless connection, Axon has to adaptively package the sensor data to be sent to the CloudNav server according to the network conditions.

The amount of sensor data sent over the air is also managed intelligently in order to optimize the number of Axons that can be deployed simultaneously in a given environment, subjected to the overall wireless bandwidth availability. Axon is designed to be added to an ordinary wheeled platform (e.g. trolley, push-cart, wheelchair) in a push/pull configuration through the use of simple attachments. This is quite different from most AGV designs, where the platform is purpose-built without any possibility of converting it to a manned platform in the future. This feature allows business users to have the flexibility to choose between a normal manned platform or an automated platform, instead of having to commit to a fleet of AGVs upfront.

To give the Axon-coupled combined wheeled platform full AGV-like capabilities, obstacle sensors, automatic docking stations, and a fleet management and scheduling user interface can be additionally provided. Although Axon is currently targeted at the small-AGV market segment, we do see other exciting developments in the future. For instance, Axon can be adapted to indoor cleaning equipment (e.g. mopping, polishing) or outdoor landscaping equipment (e.g. mowing grass) to automate them, thereby freeing up manpower for these labour-intensive tasks. CloudNav, as a cloud platform, can also be offered to other robotic manufacturers to provide plug-and-play navigational capabilities for their existing products and services.

For more information on Axon and CloudNav, please visit www.ctrlworks.com/products/axon/ and www.ctrlworks.com/products/cloudnav/

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CrtlWorks Axon