Humatics first introduced its KinetIQ product line at IMTS in Chicago back in September 2018. Since this past fall, our engineers and manufacturing teams have been working hard to scale up delivery for the first industrial-grade, ultra-precise 3D microlocation system to customers in port, manufacturing and logistics industries later this year.
Over the next several months, Humatics will be sharing monthly glimpses into some of the new features continually being added to the hardware, software, and intelligence embedded into the KinetIQ 100 and KinetIQ 300 products. For this post we’re focusing on some big upgrades to scaling up the KinetIQ 300 Beacon installation and network discovery process. Inflated costs due to prolonged manual installation and provisioning tools associated with RTLS networks has long been a limiting factor to widespread usage of these systems.
AUTOMATIC BEACON PROVISIONING
Having a tool to automatically provision infrastructure Beacons installed throughout a facility is a common pain point we hear about frequently. Manually entering each Beacon, then determining where it resides within a ultrawideband (UWB) network slotmap is a time-consuming process. To satisfy this demand, Humatics has developed software to automatically configure large sets of Beacons and tested it on a 34-Beacon constellation in our test facility in Waltham, MA.
Built into Humatics’ KinetIQ OS spatial intelligence platform, this feature automatically configures an entire constellation of KinetIQ 300 Beacons from a single configuration file, checks for configuration consistency across all Beacons in a network, and automatically fills in details that vary between Beacons. This feature helps systems integrators and automation engineers drastically speed up the installation process and reduces the possibility of Beacon setup errors.
Now imagine installing a KinetIQ 300 Beacon network inside one corner of a manufacturing plant for a particular AGV application, but wanting to extend the network for other applications in another area of the plant. Having the ability to automatically provision and add new Beacons to the network is critical to scaling up your microlocation requirements.
ROBUST BEACON SYNCHRONY
Once a Beacon constellation is installed, precise timing must be maintained across the network. This is done with a clock master. Clock synchronization is a common problem for distributed systems — including UWB networks. Several years ago, Humatics pioneered the ability to propagate precision timing through the UWB network, a crucial part of the “secret sauce” in achieving our core value of positioning precision. Thus, in order to make the KinetIQ 300 as robust to possible points of failure, we moved to an architecture where every Beacon can serve as clock master!
So how does it work? Messages from each Beacon in a constellation are shared throughout the network. These messages indicate when the network clock and synchronization status changes. For example, if Beacon 1 is the current clock master and somehow fails temporarily, the network seamlessly switches to using Beacon 2 as the new clock master. Since no one Beacon is the sole clock master, there is no longer a single point of failure in the network.
OPTIMIZED SMART BEACON DISCOVERY
Let’s switch our attention to the Navigator Nodes that range to the constellation Beacons. As Navigator-equipped AGVs, forklifts or other vehicles move through a facility, how does the robot know which Beacons will give the best range measurement? Nearby Beacons are continually talking back and forth with each Navigator Node to automatically select and range to the best nearby Beacons. Rather than manually pre-determining optimal Beacon assignment, the network and robot are intelligently selecting the beacons that will provide the best position estimates.
A range target prioritization occurs in the background to select the list of constellation Beacons for the Navigator system onboard a robot to get range measurements from. Depending on a Navigator’s location, a list of range target Beacons can now be generated by the range target prioritizer. This prioritizer continually ensures that the range information generated from the Navigator Nodes gives a robot the best understanding of where it is located at any given time.
The video below shows how a robot moving through a space automatically is assigned the closest Beacons that will give it the best localization result.
NAVIGATOR NODE CONFIGURATIONS FOR BIG AND SMALL VEHICLES
The last new KinetIQ 300 feature we want to highlight this month is related to Navigator Node configurations. The KinetIQ 300 supports either two or four Nodes connected to a Hub onboard a vehicle. Why two versus four? The simple answer: size matters.
For smaller mobile robots or cranes, two Nodes are fine for constellations to range back and forth with. But two Nodes on a massive, 15-meter-long AGV moving around intermodal containers at a port just isn’t sufficient to obtain highly precise localization. For these larger vehicles, four Nodes are often required, one in each corner, to ensure optimal localization. The Navigator system is now easily configurable for both two- and four-Node setups allowing us to microlocate robots both small and large. How’s that for robot equality?