What is the MassRobotics AMR Interoperability Standard?
The MassRobotics AMR Interoperability Standard (or MassRobotics Interoperability Standard, or just Mass standard for short), is a set of guidelines which will allow different brands of mobile robots to work together in the same environment. It is similar in this way to the VDA 5050 standard from Germany, and the Industrial Mobile Robot Fleet Management Interface Specification from China.
The Mass standard aims to allow robots to better communicate by broadcasting basic information, such as where they are and what they are doing. Most important to understand is that the MassRobotics standard is simply used for monitoring robot operations. It allows robots to communicate without sharing the maps they each use to get around, which may be proprietary, but this means another layer of intelligence is required for efficient working. This may be an ERP, or a human worker.
In an article published on Robotics 24/7, Tom Ryden, the MassRobotics executive director, commented: “The ability to have multiple robots from different vendors operating in the same environment—as the market matures, this is going to happen... If you have a robotic forklift and a floor cleaner, how can they talk to each other?”
The interoperability standard will allow the sharing of basic information, such as a vehicle’s location, direction and availability, so that different vehicles can work together more efficiently in the same space.
What is the goal of the MassRobotics Interoperability Standard?
The goal of the Mass Interoperability Standard is to enable different types, and different brands, of automated vehicles to share information, and therefore work together more effectively.
Its wider goal is to “improve the use and adoption of autonomous mobile robots” by making larger fleets of diverse vehicles easier to work with.
Before Interoperability: Remembering the Bad Old Days
If you used computers in the 1980s and 1990s, you may remember the difficulties trying to open files from a Windows computer on a Mac (and vice versa). Files could sometimes become corrupted as information was lost in translation between the two systems. Nowadays, the communication issues have been resolved and transferring files “just works.”
Very broadly, the MassRobotics Interoperability Standard aims to solve this “translation issue” for automated vehicles. When the standard is in place, even vehicles from different manufacturers (like Windows and Mac computers) should be able to communicate seamlessly.
Who is behind the Mass interoperability standard?
The MassRobotics working group initiated the Mass standard in 2020.
MassRobotics is an independent non-profit that supports robotics initiatives, with the goal of furthering robotics in Massachusetts and beyond. Members of the group who have contributed to the standard include 6 River Systems, Autoguide Mobile Robots, Locus Robotics, MiR, Open Robotics Foundation, Seegrid, Third Wave Automation, Vecna Robotics, Waypoint Robotics, and more.
What does the Mass standard cover - in general
The MassRobotics Interoperability Standard calls for data to be structured in a specific format to allow automated vehicles such as autonomous mobile robots, AGVs, and automated forklifts to communicate more effectively.
The Mass standard has robots broadcasting information about who they are, where they are, and what they are doing.
What does the Mass Standard cover - specifically
The information shared by each robots includes:
- A unique identifier number
- A timestamp indicating when the data was collected
- The name of the robot’s manufacturer, the robot’s model and its serial number
- Its operational status (for example, whether the robot is navigating, idle, charging, or waiting for another event to occur)
- Its location
- Its speed and direction
All this information is broadcast every time the robot powers up or when its status changes. The messages are sent using MQTT (a communication protocol designed for the Internet of Things) and WebSockets (a protocol that allows two-way communication with webservers).
In addition to the above, a robot may also be able to share its:
- Charger type
- Speed and run time
- Thumbnail image
- Payload type
- Payload weight and volume capacities
- Battery charge level (%)
Importantly, the MassRobotics Standard allows mobile robots to communicate all this data without using the virtual maps they use to get around, which may be proprietary.
What are the limitations of the MassRobotics Interoperability Standard?
The MassRobotics AMR Interoperability Standard is not a vehicle navigation, fleet management, or safety system. Vehicles working with the Mass Interoperability Standard must have separate safety and navigation systems, and while the Mass Standard can work with a fleet manager, it is not a substitute for it.
The MassRobotics Working Group has decided that hardware changes (such as sharing chargers) and other types of robots (such as arms) are out of scope, meaning these will not be addressed.
When will Mass go into effect?
The first version of the MassRobotics Interoperability Standard is complete and can be implemented by automated vehicle OEMs today.
The first use case will be trialled at a FedEx facility where vehicles from Waypoint Robotics, Vecna Robotics and others will be operating in the same production area.
Where can I access the current version?
The MassRobotics Interoperability Standard is available on GitHub.
Is the MassRobotics AMR Interoperability Standard only for AMRs?
No. The MassRobotics AMR Interoperability Standard applies to any industrial mobile robot, encompassing AMRs, AGVs and automated forklifts – any mobile platform capable of navigating through an industrial environment. Plus, using mobile devices human workers are able to share the same standardized information (such as their location and if they are waiting on a task), so the work can best be shared.
Is the Mass Standard only for the United States?
No. While the MassRobotics AMR Interoperability Standard has been developed in Massachusetts, it is freely available on GitHub. It is the hope of the MassRobotics working group that the standard will spread more widely.
How does the MassRobotics Interoperability Standard compare with the VDA 5050 standard?
The MassRobotics AMR Interoperability Standard does not conflict with the VDA 5050 standard. There is no technical reason why a vehicle could not use both the VDA 5050 standard and the MassRobotics AMR Interoperability Standard.
The two standards aim to accomplish different goals. The MassRobotics standard focuses on sharing information, while the VDA 5050 standard (when complete) will manage and coordinate vehicles.
When will the interoperability standard next be updated – and what will it cover?
At the time of writing, version 2.0 of the MassRobotics AMR Interoperability Standard is still a work in progress.
This update is expected to help prevent too many robots from sharing the same route at the same time. It will also examine charging and power sources.
Will ANT driven vehicles be compliant with the MassRobotics Interoperability Standard?
With ANT server software it is already possible to manage a diverse fleet of ANT driven vehicles, even including different brands of vehicles.
Like VDA 5050, the MassRobotics AMR Interoperability Standard is a more generic version of this functionality.
Got a question?
If you have any further questions about the MassRobotics AMR Interoperability Standard, VDA 5050 or AGV/AMR interoperability in general, please get in touch.