Autonomous forklifts gear up with QNX and HTML5

Warehouse robots need reliable realtime control. They also need an intuitive user interface. Can one OS handle both?

When it comes to forklifts, I am as dumb as they come. I had always assumed that one forklift is much like any other, aside from obvious differences in size and color. Boy, did I get that wrong. A quick perusal of Wikipedia reveals some 30 forklift types, ranging from “walkie stackers” (which, true to their name, are walked, not ridden) to “EX-rated lift trucks” (which, contrary to their name, aren’t designed to carry erotica but to be explosion proof).

Forklifts also come in driverless variants called automated guided vehicles, or AGVs. Case in point: the QNX-powered AGVs built by Euroimpianti, a global leader in automated warehouse systems. These vehicles can, without human intervention, load and unload trucks, as well as move materials from one area of a warehouse or factory to another. Moreover, they can operate 24/7, using a list of prioritized missions downloaded from a central management system.

As you might expect, Euroimpianti uses the QNX Neutrino OS in the realtime control systems of its AGVs. After all, predictable response times and high reliability — qualities essential to safe operation of a driverless vehicle in a busy warehouse — are QNX Neutrino’s stock-in-trade.

But here’s the thing: Euroimpianti has also decided to standardize on QNX Neutrino for the human machine interfaces (HMIs) of its operator panels. Why do that, when the HMIs could run on an OS like Windows Embedded or Android? The answer lies in the many features introduced in the QNX Neutrino OS 6.6 and the new QNX SDK for Apps and Media.

These features include a framework for creating apps and HMIs with industry-standard technologies like HTML5, JavaScript, and CSS, and a graphical composition manager that can seamlessly blend apps and graphical components created in HTML5, OpenGL ES, Qt, and other environments, all on the same display. In addition, the SDK offers secure application management, comprehensive multimedia support, mobile device connectivity, an optimized HTML5 engine, and other features for building mobile-class user experiences into embedded systems — including, of course, AGVs.

To quote Maurizio Calgaro, electronic engineering manager, Euroimpianti, “With its new QNX SDK for Apps and Media, QNX Neutrino enables us to create dynamic HMIs that leverage the latest Web technologies, including HTML5. Our operator panels and control systems can now run on the same, standards-based OS, and that means greater productivity for our developers and, ultimately, faster time-to-market for our solutions.”

The QNX SDK for Apps and Media includes an HTML5 environment to create and deploy applications.
Euroimpianti's QNX-based robotic systems also include Cartesian robots, anthropomorphic robots, and selective compliance assembly robot arms (SCARA). The systems are deployed internationally in the automotive, beverage, cosmetic, food, dairy, electrical, glass, and pharmaceutical industries. Learn more on the Euroimpianti Website, which includes many videos of the robots in action.

Using the same OS for both realtime control and user interface control.


Bend it, shape it, any way you want it

Last year, at Embedded World 2014, QNX Software Systems demonstrated three systems built by its customers: a touch display that connects washing machines to the Web, an operator panel that controls forklifts and bulldozers, and an inspection system that detects cracks in gas pipelines. These systems perform very different functions, and operate in very different environments, yet they have one thing in common: the QNX Neutrino OS.

Fast-forward to Embedded World 2015, where, once again, QNX will showcase the remarkable flexibility of its OS technology, in everything from a medical device that saves lives to a robot that cleans carpets. Of course, the new demos aren’t just about flexibility. They also showcase how QNX technology can make embedded systems easier to build, easier to certify, and easier to use. Not to mention more reliable.

So if you’re at Embedded World this week, come on over and visit us at Booth 4-358. In the meantime, here's a quick peek at what we plan to showcase:

Demo #1: The autonomous vacuum
Chances are, the QNX booth will have the cleanest floor in all of Embedded World. And for that, you can blame the Neato Botvac robot vacuum.

This Botvac is one smart appliance: Before it starts to suck up dirt, it scans and maps the entire room so it can work as quickly and methodically as possible. It’s also smart enough, and quick enough, to maneuver around furniture and to avoid staircases.

To quote Mike Perkins, vice president of engineering at Neato Robotics, “our autonomous home robots need fast, predictable response times, and the QNX OS enabled our engineers to achieve very high performance on cost-effective hardware. The QNX OS also helped us create a software architecture that can quickly accommodate new features, giving us the flexibility to scale product lines and deliver compelling new capabilities.”

Check out this video of the Botvac in action:

Demo #2: The defibrillator
If you don’t already know, the QNX Neutrino OS is used in dialysis machines, infusion pumps, angiography systems, surgical robots, and a variety of other hospital-based medical devices. But it’s also used in mHealth devices that provide critical therapy or diagnostics when the nearest hospital is miles away. Case in point: the corpuls1, a defribrillator and patient monitor for fire fighters and other first responders, built by GS Elektromedizinische Geräte G. Stemple:

Demo #3: The medical reference demo
The QNX booth will also feature our latest medical reference demo, which integrates a suite of QNX, BlackBerry, and third-party technologies for building connected, safety-critical medical devices. Here is what the demo system looks like:

And here is a sample of what’s under the covers:

IEC 62304-compliant QNX OS for Medical
HL7, the international standard for transfer of clinical data
 User interface based on the Qt application framework
Java runtime engine
 Remote device management and end-to-end security of the BlackBerry BES12 architecture

Demo #4: The QNX SDK for Apps and Media
We released the first version of this SDK almost exactly one year ago. In a nutshell, it extends the capabilities of the QNX Neutrino OS 6.6, enabling embedded developers to create rich user interfaces and applications with HTML5, JavaScript, CSS, and other Web technologies. It also offers secure application management, comprehensive multimedia support, mobile device connectivity, an optimized HTML5 engine, and other advanced features for building mobile-class user experiences into embedded devices.

You can learn more about the SDK on the QNX Website. In the meantime, here’s the home screen of the SDK, showing several of its built-in applications and demos:

Demo #5: The [CENSORED] robot
What kind of robot, you ask? Sorry, you’ll have to wait until the first day of Embedded World, when we will showcase a video of this (very cool) QNX system in action.

Demo #6: The all-new QNX [CENSORED]
Again, I can’t tell you what this is. I can’t even give you a hint. I can mention, however, that it’s a brand new product that will run on an automotive demo system in our booth. But don’t be fooled by the automotive connection! The new product can, in fact, be used in a wide variety of devices, not just cars. Stay tuned.

Visit www.qnx.com to learn more about QNX at Embedded World, including presentations on IoT and safety-critical design. And while you're at it, download this infographic to see how flexible QNX technology really is.