Eddyfi Technologies’ VersaTrax™ platforms are engineered with modularity in mind to accommodate the diverse physical configurations required for robotic inspection and deployment. The differences in the configurations necessitate software development that not only meets the varying physical demands, but also adapts to the evolving functionality needs expected by clients. Enter Eddyfi Technologies’ ICON™ software version 5, a versatile solution designed to integrate seamlessly with different robotic configurations. ICON 5 allows for software plugins that extend the control and operational capabilities demanded by today’s advanced robotic solutions.

Take, for instance, a recent project where a robotic arm was added to a VersaTrax OnSpec custom crawler. The project required advanced kinematic capabilities to control the robotic arm beyond basic joint movements. Through the development of several software plugins, the required functionalities were achieved without altering the base ICON software application.

The Challenge: Versatile and Precise Control 

In this application, the VersaTrax OnSpec crawler was deployed through a riser at the top of a tank. The folded crawler was lowered into the tank via a crane and then had to unfold itself, positioning the robotic arm and camera for operation.

VersaTrax crawler folded being deployed through a 580-millimeter (23-inch) tank riser

Figures 1 and 2: VersaTrax crawler folded being deployed through a 580-millimeter (23-inch) tank riser

This VersaTrax OnSpec crawler is equipped with numerous controlled devices, including:

  • Two 8000 series stainless steel tracks
  • A Spectrum™ 120 HD pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) remote visual inspection (RVI) camera with a rotational raise actuator
  • Three auxiliary cameras
  • A robotic arm made up of rotational actuators and a manipulator with rotational grip
  • Numerous sensors.

ICON software uses a crawler-specific configuration file that defines the devices controlled by ICON, along with the necessary operational screens, data, and behaviors. Once a configuration is loaded, the user can control and operate the robotic crawler from a computer interface using various control devices such as keyboards, touch screens, and handheld controllers.

Check out the available courses for ICON on the Eddyfi Academy.

Introducing ICON 5’s Software Development Kit 

A significant enhancement in ICON 5 is the availability of a Software Development Kit (SDK). The ICON SDK provides the software interface necessary for developers to add functionality to ICON itself. Through the exposed software interface, programmers can:

  • Interface with ICON using a gRPC (Remote Procedure Calls) API (Application Programming Interface), either running on the ICON controller or a remote network computer communicating with the ICON controller.
  • Develop user plugins that can be loaded into ICON PRO to add functionality to ICON software.

ICON plugins are a powerful tool for augmenting the base functionality of ICON. They can implement various features, including:

  • Adding custom sensors (e.g., radiation sensor) for control, operations, and data logging.
  • Developing custom tiles for the user interface for specialized control.
  • Adding control behaviors that can be used by other ICON control elements (screen tiles or handheld controller buttons).
  • Developing automation routines for repeat processes.

For the mentioned application, several plugins were developed, adding kinematic control behaviors and automation routines used on the crawler.

Deploying and Using a Robotic Arm 

ICON boasts many inherent features that provide an effective control interface for the VersaTrax OnSpec crawler with a robotic arm. Custom control screens were configured, allowing all actuators to be controlled from the ICON user interface.

Basic control and operation of the crawler and robotic arm were achieved using the inherent control tiles provided by ICON software. Control tiles are elements positioned on the control surface that allow the user to manage the behavior of various system aspects. The screen shown displays several rotational and linear control tiles overlaid on background line drawings of the VersaTrax OnSpec crawler. These basic controls met the fundamental requirements of the custom robotic solution.

To enhance operation, three separate plugins were developed, injecting custom behaviors and actions into ICON tile control elements. Plugins are added to ICON and executed within the ICON software through the plugin interface, each being independently enabled or disabled.

Custom Plugins for Enhanced Functionality 

Each plugin introduced a control item and behaviors into ICON, which could then be bound to control tiles:

Automation Routine Plugin: This plugin simplified the operator’s actions when deploying or storing the robotic arm from its folded state. The automation routine was bound to a standard ICON control button on the control surface, with a stop action tied to a dedicated stop deploy/storing button on the screen and a handheld control button (see the handheld controller action map screenshot later).

Kinematics Control Plugin: Utilizing an open-source Python library for kinematics, this plugin used a standard URDF (Unified Robotics Description Format) file to describe the geometry and constraints of the VersaTrax OnSpec arm. The kinematics provided X, Y, Z control actions mapped to the handheld controller joystick controls.

The kinematics provided X, Y, Z control actions mapped to the handheld controller joystick controls.

Camera Follow Plugin: This plugin leveraged the calculated position from the kinematics to enable the Spectrum 120 HD PTZ camera to follow the end point of the robotic arm. The camera, mounted on a rotational actuator for deployment flexibility, could automatically follow the robotic arm’s endpoint. A standard ICON toggle tile was used to turn this plugin on/off.

Advanced Features in ICON PRO 

ICON PRO software includes two features that further enhance operational efficiency:

  • User Parameters and Expressions: These provide real-time calculation of values not inherent in individual modules. For example, the calculated positions of specific points on the arm were used by ICON automation actions to limit the range of motion into ‘no-go zones,’ adding a level of safety to the robotic crawler’s operation.

  • Configurable Functionality: ICON’s modular design ensures that when standard functionality is insufficient, custom user-developed plugins can seamlessly integrate into the software, providing a comprehensive and adaptable control experience.

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ICON is modular software designed to control the modular robotic solutions developed by Eddyfi Technologies. When standard functionality is not enough, custom user developed plugins can be used to enhance the system. This modularity ensures that ICON remains at the forefront of robotic control technology, providing a seamless and efficient operational experience for a wide range of applications.

One robot can’t do it all, but VersaTrax can. See how Eddyfi Technologies robotic platforms are employed by industry leaders worldwide here. Looking for expert advice? Contact us today for a Beyond Current answer!

Authors: Craig Senych and Jeff Abt