The market for autonomous cleaning robots is growing rapidly. Experts estimate that by 2025 there will five times as many robots in use as today. No wonder, given that the market for skilled workers has dried up and given the enormous economic pressure in the industry. As the use of automated cleaning machines increases in more and more areas of public life, for example at airports, in manufacturing halls, hospitals or supermarkets, the requirements on safety become ever more stringent. Consequently, the IEC revised the standards in June 2021 and issued new standard requirements. Kärcher, the innovation leader in cleaning machine manufacturing, developed its autonomous KIRA B 50 scrubber dryer robot to these standards in collaboration with SICK thereby placing itself in the pole position in the market for cleaning robots.
Safety concept for the pole position: KIRA B 50 cleaning robot meets all the new standards
Don´t do everything yourself: comprehensive support from SICK
During the development process for automating the cleaning machine, the list of challenges was long. Searching for assistance with its personal safety concept, Kärcher turned to SICK – connected as both companies were in a long term partnership in the area of hardware. As an adaptation of the slogan “Don´t do it yourself!”, a suitable maxim for SICK support in the case of the KIRA B 50 might be “Don´t do everything yourself!” Kärcher was able to rely on SICK’s strong network of experts for all issues relating to safety in robotics.
Andreas Rendler, Strategic Product Manager at SICK, describes the comprehensive requirements catalog: “Besides providing 360 degrees protection and implementing a fall protection feature, it was especially important that the sensors have a compact design. The cleaning robot needed to be able to efficiently master not only corridors and tight spaces but also cornering, and be able to safely detect obstacles and navigate around them. Satisfying the requirements of all the new standards was, of course, a top priority.”
“KIRA B 50” – Kärcher Intelligent Robotic Application
To ensure the KIRA B 50 could truly live up to its name, an acronym of “Kärcher Intelligent Robotic Application”, Kärcher and SICK put their combined expertise into the planning, design and trialling of the cleaning robot. The team of experts from SICK provided their advisory support with the implementation of the demanding safety concept. The result: Three nanoScan3 safety laser scanners and the Flexi Soft safety controller round off the intelligent robot application. They ensure that the environment perception of the cleaning robot is not only focused on optimal navigation but also ensures, in particular, the safety of persons in its environment.
Fall risk eliminated, all-round protection
“One of the first key challenges was the all-round protection for the KIRA B 50 because the cleaning robot moves both forwards and backwards. We found the optimal solution for this by locating two nanoScan3 devices at diagonally opposite corners of the vehicle,” explains Alina Seitter, Product Manager KIRA B 50 at Alfred Kärcher SE & Co. KG. Thanks to the wide scanning angle of 275° and their large protective field range, these lasers provide horizontal all-round protection thereby meeting the new IEC 63327 safety standard.
To meet the key requirement for fall protection, a third nanoScan3 safety laser scanner was added because many public environments such as supermarkets, university buildings or airports pose a safety risk to autonomous robots on account of their escalators, stairwells and ramps. Kärcher therefore equipped the KIRA B 50 with a nanoScan3 as a “cliff LIDAR” for fall protection. It is mounted on the front side of the autonomous cleaning robot and detects the floor in front of it at an oblique angle. As soon as the nanoScan3 detects an abrupt height difference, a signal is sent to the Flexi Soft safety controller. Further movement in the direction of the potential fall edge, for example a step, is stopped and the navigation unit of the Kärcher selects an alternate route.
The compact design and the small size of the nanoScan3 also makes it easier to optimally locate the sensors. Being one of the smallest safety laser scanners on the market, it can be integrated into the machine design of the KIRA B 50 in a space-saving and ideal manner.
Productivity and efficiency, even when things get tight
The requirement for safety both in narrow corridors and spaces as well as when cornering is met by the special safety functions of SICK's safety system, which allow the protective fields to be selected based on the speed and steering angle. The following applies: The greater the speed, the larger the scan fields need to be to enable the vehicle to come to a safe stop before an obstacle. At the same time, the safety fields should be as small as possible in order to avoid unnecessary speed reductions and stops. The safety system from SICK resolves this problem with the steering angle dependent switching of up to 128 protective fields feature of the nanoScan3. This increases, on the one hand, the productivity of the cleaning robot in narrow gaps and rooms. On the other hand, the dynamic protective field switching in large open spaces allows high speeds and thereby greater efficiency.
Alina Seitter underscores the importance of the safety functionality: “Safety is the number one priority for Kärcher and we can one hundred percent rely on this safety concept for the autonomous operation of our cleaning machines when there is no one on site to intervene.” SICK assisted Kärcher with obtaining the necessary Performance Level d certification.Alina Seitter is impressed with the overall result of this collaborative development: “KIRA was created in close collaboration with SICK. Reliable and intelligent sensors are enormously important in robotics, and we found SICK to be an especially experienced supplier.”
Straight to the desired outcome
As one of only a few suppliers that can offer complete safety systems, SICK equipped the KIRA B 50 with exactly the sensors it needs to ensure the cleaning robot operates reliably and safely. From the safety laser scanners to the safety controller right through to the safety encoder, Kärcher obtained everything from a single source. Including expert and trusting support with the certification. “The tailored safety concept of the KIRA B 50 is the result of an ongoing and close dialog with Kärcher. Looking back, Andreas Rendler summarizes it as follows: “We were very pleased that Kärcher requested our support very early in the development process. This enabled us to use our expertise and know-how to help the customer achieve their desired safety concept more quickly and directly.”
With its innovations in the area of safety-certified autonomous cleaning robots, Kärcher intends to provide the industry with solutions for becoming more productive and profitable and to effectively counter the problem of shortage of staff. The market leader regards the KIRA B 50 as only the beginning, however, as Alina Seitter emphasizes: “We are planning to create a whole fleet of autonomous cleaning robots, and because the sensors and safety controller from SICK are a fundamental part of our sensor concept for KIRA, they will no doubt be used in more model series in future as well”.