Standardization In 2020 a Tipping Point for Large-Scale Robotics Deployment

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1Q 2020 | IN-5718

Despite feverish activity and considerable hype, most sections of the robotics space are in the embryonic stage of market development, and a key way to accelerate deployment is to develop effective standardization. The year 2020 will see a rollout of new standards for three nascent fields: drones, Industrial Mobile Robots (IMRs), and cobots.

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The Need for sUAS Regulation


Despite feverish activity and considerable hype, most sections of the robotics space are in the embryonic stage of market development, and a key way to accelerate deployment is to develop effective standardization. The year 2020 will see a rollout of new standards for three nascent fields: drones, Industrial Mobile Robots (IMRs), and cobots.

The year 2019 closed off with the announcement of the first International Organization for Standardization (ISO)-approved drone safety standards (ISO/TC 20/SC 16) in December 2019. This means that in 2020 the set-up of a safety management system will be a major regulatory topic. It also means that the foundation for future rulemaking, standardizing, and legislating of drone operations has now been laid.

A key attribute of the ISO/TC 20/SC 16 is its focus on air safety, which is at the forefront of public attention in connection with airports and other sensitive locations. The new Standard promotes an “etiquette” for drone use that reinforces compliance toward no-fly zones, local regulation, flight log protocols, maintenance, training, and flight planning documentation. Social responsibility is also at the heart of the Standards, which strengthen the responsible use of a technology that aims to improve and not disrupt everyday life. The effectiveness of the Standards in improving air safety will be further strengthened by the continuing rapid development of geo-fencing and counter-drone technology, providing frontline protection against “rogue” drone operators.

The Standards also seek to address public concerns surrounding privacy and data protection, demanding that operators must have appropriate systems to handle data alongside communications and control planning when flying.  The hardware and software of all related operating equipment must also be kept up to date.  Significantly, the fail-safe of human intervention is required for all drone flights, including autonomous operations, ensuring that drone operators are held accountable.

ISO/TC 20/SC 16 marks the first in a series of emerging standards for air drones. Going forward, ABI Research expects other standards to address key aspects such as general specifications, product manufacture and maintenance, Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM), testing procedure, and product manufacture standards. A major challenge for drone-related associations in 2020 will lay in the implementation and harmonization with national standard coordinating bodies (ANSI, JSI, DIN, etc.) and the compatibility of these standards with existing drone regulations.

National regulations are also catching up, especially in relation to Beyond-Visual-Line-of-Sight (BVLOS). The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently issued guidelines on the remote identification of drones. The new decrees require that Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) larger than 0.55 pounds transmit Remote Identification (RID) codes to assist law enforcement and Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management (UTM) operators. RID is considered a prerequisite for not only BVLOS operations but also for night flights and flights over large groups of people.

Drone manufacturers have three options for compliance for RID—Standard, limited, and FAA-Approved—as shown below:

  Three Ways of Remotely Identifying Drones  

The guidelines are open for comments and are only the beginning of a long journey toward a comprehensive UTM system. Already, however, the document has caused ire among hobbyists who fear privacy concerns and the cost of flying drones with new RID-compliant hardware. Security companies and law enforcement agencies are equally irritated by the fact that the RID laws are not expected to be enforced for another three years. Near-misses like at a Nevada airport in 2018 and the 2019 Heathrow incident are making agencies request more urgency for drone regulation and, as more incidents occur, the regulatory landscape is likely to tilt ever further toward government agencies and away from hobbyists.

Mobile Robotics Standardization


In Europe, Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) and Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) are covered by EN 1525:1997. A successor to EN 1525 is ISO/FDIS 3691-4:, which is scheduled for release in January 2020. ISO/FDIS 3691-4 addresses safety concerns for internal logistics and the hazards related to recompute paths on-the-fly, which directly mitigate the new challenges relating to the switch from AGVs to AMRs. The United States has similar levels of standards via the National Standard’s Institute’s 5-2012, which is similar in scope to EN 1525.

Meanwhile, there are new standards expected in 2020 for industrial mobile robots coming from the robotics industries association, falling under the code R15.08. This Standard establishes safety and procedural norms for three types of industrial mobile robot:

IMR Type A

• AMR (mobile platform only)

IMR Type B

• IMR Type A + attachment (passive or active, non-manipulator)

IMR Type C

• IMR Type A + industrial manipulator

• AGV + industrial manipulator

These Standards have been in the pipeline for years and will help formalize the massive expansion of mobile robots for industry, as well as provide regulatory oversight and safety standards for mobile manipulation, a key application in the long term. However, these Standards are somewhat limited in the following aspects:

  • Silent on indoor versus outdoor
  • Silent on whether the robots are wheeled, tracked, or have legs
  • Do not account for robots in public spaces
  • Only apply to robots in structured environments

Eventually, greater attention must be paid to mobile robots outside the industrial space. A good example is the popularization of robotics in healthcare. AGVs for food service, sterile supplies, and materials and waste management transport in Healthcare have been present for over 30 years. An example of the scale is the Centre Hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal (CHUM), which has 71 mobile robots moving 4,000 separate loads per day, or the Cleveland Clinic, which has 80 robots moving over 3,500 loads per day.

Over the last few years AMRs have been entering this market—notably Aethon, OMRON, and Mobile Industrial Robots. Unlike more traditional environments for robots, like manufacturing and fulfillment centers, hospitals have to contend with issues such as:

  • Aseptic/Infection control
  • Horizontal and Vertical travel
  • Traveling through corridors with fire doors and other types of traffic
  • Large populations of people that are not familiar with the AMRs or the building(s)
  • Very reliable transportation of physical and/or time- and/or temperature- sensitive products
  • Corridors, lobbies, and areas with patients being transported in wheelchairs or on gurneys, beds, etc.

The lack of established industry norms and rules for mobile robots in commercial spaces can potentially lead to unsafe conditions. Some installations of mobile robots can violate building and life safety codes, and of these some have been decommissioned and removed after failing inspections by fire inspectors or other authorities. As there are no codes specifically relating to AMRs, some vendors argue that they do not have to comply with the regulations currently attributed to AGVs, such as connection and interface with fire and smoke alarm systems.

There is also profound concern about the collection of data in public spaces, and this is the task many mobile robots are expected to take on. For example, due to a freedom of information request, it was found the Huntington Park Police Department in California had purchased Knightscope security robots as part of a service and were collecting data on number plates and using facial recognition to enforce blacklists of known offenders. As thousands of robots get deployed in hospitality, retai,l and in the outdoors, as is projected in 2020, more comprehensive standardization for mobile robots will be seen as more urgent.

Other standards in progress that will likely have impacts on manufacturers, users, and integrators of mobile robots in the future will be included in the soon to be updated ISO 10218-1, a large scale regulation of robotic safety standards across the industrial environment.

A Year of Profound Opportunityy—and Considerable Risk


Most commentators hold high hopes for both drones and mobile robots in 2020. Despite the closure of Aria Insights (formerly CyPhy Works) in March 2019, the drone industry continued to grow in energy and security markets and, particularly, for inspections. There is much talk about the value of drone delivery and passenger drones. While there was movement in 2019 indicating increased appetites for testing and trialing delivery drone systems, the market remains marginal, and before anything as ambitious as large-scale delivery operations and passenger drones can be popularized, the rest of the standardizations from ISO have to come through and be harmonized with government regulations. Drone providers and onlookers should therefore likely see 2020 as a year when drones will become optimized in established markets but will likely not be implemented in transformative ways like passenger vehicles or as a major part of smart city development.

The RID regulations will not be fully enforced in the United States until 2022, but expect there to be more movement on the matter following pushback from law enforcement and the likelihood of negative incidents leading to greater urgency.

For mobile robotics, the expansion of AGVs in public spaces is likely to cause some significant scrutiny and, particularly in the United States, there is a real lack of harmonization among states for deployment in public spaces. Rather than following the footstep of the ride-sharing and electric scooter companies (work around regulation and force change), deployment of AMRs has to be orderly and preempted by clear standardization that can be harmonized across jurisdictions.

A key difference between commercial drones and mobile robotics is that regulations for the latter are currently vertical-specific and biased toward manufacturing and indoor logistics. As the demand for robots in public settings increases, expect a more expansive series of regulations.



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