Agile Planet Launches Plug-and-Play Smart Motion Controllers

A Texas-based startup has released two new smart controllers as part of its flagship product line aimed at simplifying motion control for manufacturing automation and other types of robots.

The AX-50 and AX-100 controllers join the AX-RLX as offerings from Agile Planet, a company that grew from technology licensed from the University of Texas (UT), developed over about 15 years, CEO Chetan Kapoor told Design News.

That technology was intelligent control software for robotics for use in various applications: nuclear plants, space, and industrial automation.

"We made these robots do tasks that involved a lot of sensing, and allowed them to plan their motions intelligently," Kapoor told us. "They were also sensitive to touch so they could perform an operation that allowed them to touch something, push something, and even interact with humans."

Agile adapted that technology to create controllers with intelligence in the system that eliminates configuration or programming steps for developers using the software with robotics systems. Kapoor explains:

For example, if you're connecting our software to a robot, it automatically knows the physics of the robot, which will make it move smoothly. If a robot hits something, it's sensitive to touch and it will move back. It knows what way to go to get to point A to point B fastest, [whereas] normally in systems you have to teach it every point. Instead, it will figure out things itself.

Agile was launched in 2008, with the AX-RLX controller leveraging the UT technology released in 2010. Agile first hitched its wagon to Rockwell Automation, creating its first product as a plug-in module for that company's programmable logic controllers (PLCs). An early customer, Yaskawa Motoma, is using Rockwell's PLC with Agile's controller in commercial products, Kapoor said.

However, while most industrial automation systems are standardized on one company's platform -- such as one for Rockwell or Siemens -- that standardization is only because it's difficult to create and control a system of best-in-breed components, Kapoor said.

People use the standards to do lip service, but they don't deliver easy-to-use software. For example, a company will say they support Ethernet, but there is no software/intelligence on top of it to make it easy [to deploy].

Now, with the AX-50 and AX-100, Agile has released controllers that aren't tied to one system, but are rather platform agnostic, working with a range of other systems and robots, Kapoor said. This gives OEMs a choice in what drivers and components they use in an automation or robotics system, and allows one controller for them all. According to Kapoor:

[Agile controllers] make any hardware that is downstream look the same to the user. An end-user programming it can mix and match servo drives and robotics from different vendors, and they will come across the same.

The key difference between the two new controllers is that the AX-50 is primarily for simple motion control, such as machines with up to 16 axes of motion. If an application demands coordinated control -- such as in a sophisticated robotic arm -- the more sophisticated AX-100 contains the algorithms to enable that type of robotic movement.

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