AIMing for Automated Vehicles

Paul F. Grayson, AIMing for Automated Vehicles blog, Control Engineering

The U.S. armed forces have had smart weapons for a long time now. It is just recently that they realized they need smart supply trucks. Hi, I am Paul F. Grayson, Team Leader of American Industrial Magic (AIM), one of last remaining teams of the 390 teams that worked on vehicles for the DARPA Grand Challenge series of unmanned vehicle races. AIM is working to save soldiers lives by searching for ways to make driverless Army supply trucks affordable. AIM is funded by donations from individuals like you who want to speed up the fielding of this life-saving technology. With this blog, you can look over my shoulder while I and my team work on  this important technology. You will get a chance to look into the world of unmanned robotic vehicles, see some of the things that I see, and puzzle over the challenges of making vehicles driverless. Welcome to my world!



Bricks, blocks, control systems, and programming software

The CCBB application development software is for machine builders who develop low-cost standalone machines. It is built around a core of Allen-Bradley MicroLogix controllers, A-B PanelView Component human-machine interfaces (HMIs) and key application-specific components, such as A-B PowerFlex 4 drives.

November 24, 2010

CCBB application development software from Rockwell AutomationHere at AIM we need to create control system inexpensively and fast, which might be something you need to do too. Several of the volunteers here have suggested we take a closer look at A-B programmable logic controllers (PLCs). The volunteers think that they can build the entire vehicle control system for a self-driving truck from building blocks like the Allen-Bradley line from Rockwell Automation. We have not tested that theory yet but the more I find out about these blocks the more it looks like they are something we should try. Here is some of what I have found out so far.

Designing control systems consumes a large portion of a machine’s development time and budget so it is also a good place to look for savings.

Any reduction in cost can provide machine builders with a critical competitive advantage, so it makes sense to use software and components that allow fast and easy implementation of common control-design tasks. We all started out with Erector Set, Tinker Toys, or Lego’s so it is natural that we would bring those skills of working with modular components to the workplace.

The CCBB application development software is for machine builders who develop low-cost standalone machines, perhaps in AIM’s case that would be “drive alone” machines. CCBB is built around a core of Allen-Bradley MicroLogix controllers, Allen-Bradley PanelView Component human-machine interfaces (HMIs) and key application-specific components, such as Allen-Bradley PowerFlex 4 drives. The CCBB application development software helps designers ease connectivity and programming of these devices, along with other Rockwell Automation industrial components, including starters, motors, push buttons, sensors, safety components, and power supplies.

CCBB application development software includes pre-developed HMI screens, panel layouts, wiring diagrams and application code. They also provide designers with best-practice examples of product connections and layouts.

The building blocks help simplify design tasks in a range of applications, from simple position, speed and temperature control, to error-proofing, color sensing, alarm coordination, machine safety, energy management and motion control applications. This can make dealing with those pesky automation and control problems that you deal with every day fun again.

For machine safety, the E-stop and Gate Switch String building block is ideal for machines where access to the process is through safety doors or a light curtain. When combined with an Allen-Bradley Guardmaster MSR42 multi-function safety relay, a Guardmaster MSR127 single function safety relay, a MicroLogix 1400 controller, and a PanelView Component operator interface for system monitoring, you have created a machine safety system.

Intuitive and self-explanatory HMI screens provide an overview the machine state. Built in advanced diagnostics provide additional savings during startup and troubleshooting.

Energy management building blocks assist engineers in configuring energy monitoring applications on low-end machines by providing previously applied examples. With the Plant Power Metering System building block, for example, designers can configure a system to provide one view of all power meters on the plant floor from one PanelView Component 600 HMI. The HMI application is fully configurable. All energy parameters can be logged, trended and have reports generated in the RSEnergyMetrix software package.

This can be especially valuable to you now that the Department of Defense has made energy management a high priority factor in all purchases.

The Simple Motion Control via EtherNet/IP building block allows designers to easily configure simple motion control applications via EtherNet/IP, without the need for a dedicated motion network. Designers can use the Kinetix 300 EtherNet/IP indexing servo drive with the MicroLogix 1400 programmable controller to achieve a simple, cost-effective component motion solution.

Easy setup via a Web browser helps users quickly implement non-coordinated, independent, indexing moves – along with the ability to control the indexing moves over an EtherNet/IP network. With Connected Components and its application development software, machine builders concentrate on machine design and ease of use, rather than gathering documents and drawing diagrams.

CCBB application development software, including literature, is available free on a DVD. I sent for the DVD to get a closer look at the system and its software using the button on the A-B site. Look for Rockwell Automation to continue expansion of this product line as the world rebounds from the recession, and machine building around the world surges.

Have you used these software tools? Let me know what you think of them.

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Paul F. Grayson - Chief Engineer, American Industrial Magic, LLC, "Small engine and machinery repair"

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