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RFID Helps Halt Collisions Between People and Robots

Automation-machinery provider CAMotion is offering Q-Track's RFID-based CANLOS solution, with its collision-avoidance technology, to head off accidents.
By Claire Swedberg
May 25, 2012In today's manufacturing environment, humans often work side by side with large robotic equipment. Many factories thus count on automated protection systems to ensure that robotic cranes and other automated heavy machinery never collide with a person—even if that individual's behavior is unexpected (such as if he or she leans down to tie a shoe, then suddenly stands).

CAMotion, a provider of robotic automation machinery, is offering Q-Track's RFID-based Collision Avoidance Non-Line of Sight (CANLOS) system to its customers. The solution, intended to provide redundancy to CAMotion's existing laser-based perimeter-safety system, employs RFID receivers (readers) on cranes, as well as RFID tags worn by workers, to detect an imminent collision and stop a crane before that can occur.

CAMotion is mounting Q-Track RFID receivers on some of the robotic cranes it sells to customers.

CAMotion's laser-based solution provides what it calls complete accuracy in protecting people from the machines in their vicinity, as long as those individuals comply with expected behaviors. However, for situations in which the laser system fails to detect a person's presence—such as when someone crouches down or steps behind a box or crate—CAMotion now offers CANLOS to ensure that the system will shut down even during such unexpected events. Using RFID technology, Q-Track provides a non-line-of-sight solution, so that if someone fools the laser's line of sight but still remains within the crane's vicinity, CAMotion's safety software will detect this.

The CANLOS system employs what Q-Track dubs Near Field Electromagnetic Ranging (NFER) technology. NFER tags, unlike typical active RFID or Wi-Fi solutions, transmit at low frequencies (1 MHz), says Stephen Werner, Q-Track's CEO, with long wavelengths that typically measure approximately 300 meters (984 feet). This makes the transmission easier to read in what are considered "hostile" RF environments, such as those containing a great deal of metal. The company's tags are battery-powered, and employ a proprietary air-interface protocol to communicate with a receiver.

CAMotion's "dynamic safety system" technology runs on the crane's Siemens programmable logic controller (PLC), in conjunction with CAMcode motion-control software on an embedded PC. In the event that the solution detects a person within the laser system's field of vision, it instructs the crane's PLC to deactivate the crane until someone manually restarts it, or until the system senses that the area is clear.

CAMotion is providing the CANLOS system—as redundancy to its laser-based collision-avoidance technology—to a magazine printing firm that utilizes automated cranes to move large stacks of paper, known as logs. The CANLOS system has been installed at 15 locations throughout the United States, according to Alex Furth, CAMotion's CEO, with six additional sites slated to go live during the next few months.

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