As we discussed in an earlier blog, a detailed set of requirements is key to any successful product development effort. In the case of developing a robotics system, this is especially important as these systems tend to be dynamic systems (i.e., they involve motion) and may be used in a wide variety of environments. Understanding and defining the operational requirements and boundaries of the robot is critical both to the design and ultimately to customer satisfaction (setting proper customer expectations). And if your business model is to sell the robots as a service, designing the robot(s) to satisfy a potentially wide range of customers and their (potentially) unique requirements will be critical to expanding your customer base.
In today’s blog, we’re going to focus on defining some of these operational boundaries – we’ll leave the user interface/operational control, sensors/data gathering and other requirements for a future blog.
There are several main areas that should be defined in terms of requirements for a robotics design:
- Operational environment – this defines the types and worst case environments and environmental conditions the robot is design to operate in. It includes:
- Temperature range
- Ability to withstand water – for what period? Is it freshwater? Seawater?
- Will it be operating underwater? If so, to what maximum depth?
- Ability to withstand specific toxic liquids?
- Dust (sealing)
- Noise (eg., are there any requirements for the maximum level of noise the robot produces)
- Exposure to various forms of radiation
- Shock/vibration/other extremes – how rugged does the robot need to be, including:
- Does it need to survive a drop test? If so, what are the specs?
- Will it be operating in an environment where it may be subject to sudden or constant forces? If so, what are they?
- Will it operate in an environment with significant vibration?
- Will the possibility exist for other objects to impact the operation of the robot in its environment – and if so, how will the robot deal with these and what should it withstand?
- Physical characteristics/capabilities of the robot
- Are there any weight and/or size/dimension limitations or specifications?
- Are there any speed of motion requirements for the robot (eg., for articulating arms, or moving from place to place if it has that capability?)?
- If the robot will be experiencing load conditions (eg, lifting/moving objects, applying pressure), what are the maximum loads and under what conditions will these loads be?
- How will the robot be powered/controlled?
- Energy requirements?If battery operated, maximum operating time between charges? Can the battery(ies) be replaced by the user?Security requirements (if any) for controlling the robot
- Requirements around video/audio communication
- Video – definition/frame rateAudio – frequency response/sensitivityTransmission distance requirementsSecurity/encryption requirements
- Safety and Compliance considerations
- Are there any certifications/etc. that the robot will need to satisfy in order to be deployed (eg, UL, OSHA, FAA, FCC, etc.)
- Will the robot be operating with or near people? If so, what safety considerations should be reviewed/implemented?
- How will the robot be repaired if something fails (eg., return to depot, field replacements, user serviceable)
- What type/frequency of maintenance is required/envisioned
- How modular will the essential components of the robot be?
- Are there planned accessories, upgrades/updates envisioned, and if so, how will those be implemented (e.g., in the field/customer upgradeable or return to depot)
As with most product development processes, a set of requirements will start from an idealized perspective, and compromises/tradeoffs will likely be needed to satisfy performance, cost, etc. realities. In the end, spending the time to consider and detail these requirements will save both time and money in the long run. Find several potential customers, and work with them to understand the impact of these tradeoffs and help you prioritize your requirements.
Ken Haven has been CEO of Acorn Product Development since the company’s founding in 1993. Ken has more than 25 years of product development experience including technical leadership roles with NeXT Computer, Attain, Inc., and Hewlett-Packard. He holds MS and BS degrees in mechanical engineering from Cornell University.