Introduction

This research package is focused on the modularity of generic machines and especialllon intelligent technologies applied in different phases of their lifespan. Generic modular structures necessitate intelligent approaches to the design, testing, control, and condition monitoring phases of a machine. The innovation process from idea to product needs new thinking with modular generic machines. This means that

  • the design has to be carried out concurrently, using modern virtual tools,
  • testing has to be essentially connected to the design phase with virtual prototypes and models,
  • the control of actuators has to be intelligently controlled, and
  • maintenance and proactive condition monitoring have to be realized with intelligent methods.

In modular machines all design actions have to be capable of being carried out concurrently. This means that, depending on the application, the method combination that is needed varies. For example, in the design phase virtual testing might be needed so that the power source models developed have to be connected to real power control and transmission hardware using real control software. This kind of real-time simulation-based hardware-in-the-loop (HIL) method is an effi cient tool, especially in modular-based machines. Concurrent design also covers the work done simultaneously in different locations. Using modern virtual reality systems the development groups can even be on different continents and the cooperation can still be real-time-based and the models handled can be the same in both places. This requires appropriate methods and systems that are especially designed for mobile machines. The research and development of these systems are undertaken in this research package.

Modularity itself is a complex research object. In intelligent machines modularity can be realized on a very large scale when thinking about the size and structures of the subsystems. The modularity research has to be extended through all the research packages and also all the major sub-systems have to be divided and the relevance of modularity has to be examined. The interaction, information transfer, and energy transfer with other modules have to be researched in the case of every single module. This means that suitable methods for creating and controlling modules in intelligent mobile machines have to be developed. In addition, development in the fi eld of standardization, which is just in a starting phase, has to be followed carefully.

Finally, the design and manufacturing costs of complex systems, such as robots and other intelligent machines, are high. Many markets are also too small for specifi c development. Thus these systems should be easily reconfi gurable. Developing open-component plug-and-play modularity for robotics is important for making costs lower, fault tolerance better, and development speed faster. This would offer much greater possibilities for these market areas.

The EU CLAWAR thematic network has been active in developing specifi cations for modularity for several years and has contacted many different standardization bodies in order to encourage standardization. The work is now continuing in the ISO/TC 184/SC2 working group. It has been working on defi ning so-called “interaction variables”. It has the following interaction variables: power, computer databus, mechanical linkages, analogue signals, digital signals, and working environment. The idea is that different kinds of modules would have standardized variables and it would be easy to integrate the new modules into the system. The use of an intelligent power supply is an example of the use of interaction variables. The necessary connections are power and databus. From the power interaction (e.g. from the battery) it gets the power to start itself and drive its electronics. It supplies different voltages back to the power connection. The databus is used for communication between the power supply and the other system modules. The power supply receives instructions for adjusting its operation from the databus and it sends back diagnostic information, such as power consumption and the fuel level.