Reno Rossetti, Principal Writer, Maxim Integrated
At this year’s CES 2020 in Las Vegas, service robots where a big hit on the show floor. It’s easy to understand why: they look and are, indeed, exotic. Among the automated machines I saw at CES: Samsung’s Ballie, a personal assistant the size of a tennis ball that rolls on the floor, following its owner and helping him around the house; spider-like creatures capable of coordinating their motion on multiple legs; and humanoid ones that appeared to pop right out of a Disney cartoon (Figure 1).
Robots are a fact of life in the industrial environment as, anchored on the factory floor, they help achieve economies of scale in huge assembly lines.
But service robots are a different breed: they generally are machines that perform useful, repetitive, or time-consuming tasks for humans. They are currently employed in industries as varied as retail, hotels and hospitality, hospitals and healthcare, space, security, policing, storage and warehousing, demolition and rehabilitation, agriculture, and anywhere where risky tasks can be automated. Service robots often have some degree of autonomy, namely perceive their environment via cameras, make some decision accordingly, and respond with actions like motion in a certain direction or manipulation of objects.
In their most sophisticated form, they are androids that can move, receive voice commands, speak, and have life-like skin that can be electrically stimulated to mimic facial and neck expressions.
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Figure 2. The android version of Arnold Schwarzenegger on the CES 2020 show floor. (Picture courtesy of Reno Rossetti)
I can testify to that: on the CES show floor, the bust of Arnold Schwarzenegger (Figure 2) could move his facial muscles pretty realistically while speaking the Austrian-accented English with which we are all familiar from his movies: “Hasta la vista, baby!”
This is cool stuff, but after recovering from the novelty shock, I realize that this technology is within our reach. The robot needs batteries to be untethered, motors to move, and a controller to perform. Figure 3 shows a system block diagram of a robot. It takes power from the AC line via an AC adapter that powers the system while charging the battery, typically a 12V, 6Ah Lithium battery, via a charger. When the AC adapter is present, the power selector passes along energy to the rest of the system. In absence of AC power, it energizes the system from the battery. A system power protection front-end assures clean power to the system, blocking input voltage anomalies especially in the presence of an AC line. Motor drivers will drive motors and a slew of switching regulators (Buck 1, Buck 2, Buck 3) and linear regulators (LDO) will power the radio, display, audio, sensors and microcontrollers.
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Figure 3. High-level robot system block diagram
The service robotic market is expected to have healthy growth in the foreseeable future—Markets and Markets forecasts it to reach US $23.90 billion by 2022, representing a CAGR of 15.18% between 2016 and 2022. Its technology synergies with more traditional portable applications are obvious, which allows Maxim to apply its broad power management portfolio to this new, emerging and fun segment. Hasta la vista!