It can see, hear and walks on uneven ground quickly and independently, avoiding obstacles and helped its inventors to win the Swiss Economic Award 2020. ANYmal is a four-legged inspection robot—the creation of the high-tech company ANYbotics based in Zurich—used predominantly in large industry where the safety of employees is as much a top priority as high productivity. To get its robot up and running, the young company turned to SOLIDWORKS’ broad portfolio of application solutions.
Pictures: © ANYbotics AG
Head of Industrialisation and co-founder of ANYbotics, Andreas Lauber’s entrepreneurial spirit is palpable as he enthusiastically speaks about his “baby”, which many people say resembles a dog. “Basically, our robot is a device that can patrol facilities and carry out routine inspections completely autonomously.” If you imagine a large chemical plant, in which hundreds of measuring devices are installed that aren’t networked with each other, ANYmal can read every single one and therefore provide an overview of the status of the entire plant—24 hours a day.
ANYbotics was founded as a spin-off from ETH Zürich, where Andreas Lauber leveraged the NX CAD system and Siemens Teamcenter PLM software to create the research prototype, ANYmal B. When the company became independent in 2019, the engineer was on the lookout for financially viable software alternatives. “We focussed on mid-range CAD systems and opted for SOLIDWORKS, which on the one hand is very intuitive and on the other is very widespread,” says Andreas Lauber. “This also makes it easier to find new staff as many people already have some experience with SOLIDWORKS. We also received a very enticing offer from our CAD partner, Solid Solutions, for the basic licences we required.”
ANYmal C—the company’s latest iteration of its inspection robot—doesn’t only navigate its way around sites following pre-defined routes. It can also be controlled remotely making it even more flexible. The robot even reacts to its environment with its sensors detecting, for example, if obstacles or people are in its path so that it can change its course accordingly. The latest version has been completely redesigned by the team of engineers made up of 35 young, specialists from around the world highly trained in various disciplines ranging from robotics and mechatronics to simulations and industrial design.
SOLIDWORKS made it possible for the team to create initial visualisations, to plan fixed components and sensors and to organise the electronics to develop optimum solutions. The concepts were then compared. “We very quickly saw the effects of proportions and weights—an area that SOLIDWORKS excels in,” explains Lauber. “SOLIDWORKS’ simulation solutions enabled us to carry out early analyses of moving parts and cooling concepts—an important issue for us as ANYmal C is waterproof according to IP67 standards.” It is, in fact, quite critical as the robot has been designed to be submerged in up to one metre of water for up to 30 minutes, but still be able to cool down when on dry land.
ANYbotics is a Swiss robotics company and a pioneer in the field of autonomous mobile robotics. Their walking robots can operate in conventional, purpose-built environments and beyond, solving customer problems in demanding infrastructures that were previously only accessible for humans. Founded in 2016 as a spin-off of the globally leading robotics lab, ETH Zürich, the fast-growing team of some 80 employees made it their goal to revolutionise various industries with their robotic technologies. The company counts leading energy, process and construction companies as its customers.
Walking robots are utterly fascinating. It’s impressive how our robot moves naturally around its environment and is constantly evolving, learning new tricks, becoming more robust and performing its tasks faster and better
Andreas Lauber, Head of Industrialisation and Co-founder of ANYbotics
“Another factor that drew us to SOLIDWORKS was that product data management allows our engineers to work simultaneously on a design and achieve a high level of data quality and security,” explains Andreas Lauber. According to Lauber, Solid Solutions’ PDM administrator trainings were also worth their weight in gold as they enabled the development team to work quickly and reliably from the off. The system house’s help desk is also on hand to give advice on even the most detailed questions. “There isn’t a lot of um-ing and ah-ing—we get answers straight away, which is something I personally find excellent. And then there’s the remote access, which Solid Solutions support staff can use to look at problems in the system in real-time and make any necessary changes immediately.”
Andreas Lauber is predicting a billion-euro market for ANYmal, but is wary of saying anything about the cost of such a robot. ANYbotics is currently producing a few dozen ANYmal Cs annually with the number to go up to more than 100 in the next two years. At the beginning of December 2020, the start-up managed to secure a fresh investment of 20 million francs for this purpose. The development team is, of course, already working on the next model—ANYmal D—leveraging their tried and tested development solutions.
Mr Lauber, ANYbotics was awarded the Swiss Economic Award in the High-tech/Biotech category in September 2020. Your company then received the SEF.High-Potential SME quality seal. What was your reaction to these awards and what has happened since then?
Andreas Lauber – We were very proud to win the Swiss Economic Award as this is the most important prize for young Swiss companies. We at ANYbotics are constantly asking ourselves if we are going in the right direction and if we have positioned ourselves correctly, and this award confirmed we are on the right track. It’s also a confirmation of quality that shows our business partners that what we are doing makes sense. SOLIDWORKS has also helped us in this regard. Another benefit of the award is that it has given our visibility on the market a boost and is the best advert for us as a company—also for potential staff. We are always on the lookout for new talent because we want to continue to grow.
Also in September, ANYbotics announced a close and long-term cooperation with the drive specialist, Maxon, in the field of actuator development and production for ANYmal. Will we see other partnerships?
Yes, because we can’t do everything ourselves. Maxon is our first partnership and they are experts in the field of electronic drive technology and that is precisely why we want to work with them. Particularly because this kind of technology is the main component of our robot. Our greatest skills are in the area of system integration which is why we are sure to build other partnerships.
What motivates you?
Walking robots are utterly fascinating. It’s impressive how our robot moves naturally around its environment and is constantly evolving, learning new tricks, becoming more robust and performing its tasks faster and better. I’m also fascinated by questions about how to make robots and how to make parts in large quantities and everything that goes with it.
This article is taken from the print edition of Bechtle updates 2.2021. You can order or subscribe to the print edition free of charge or download it as a pdf file.
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Published on Sep 27, 2021.