Source: Eugene Demaitre, The Robot Report

BOSTON — As factories and warehouses look to automate more of their operations, they need confidence that multiple robots can conduct complex tasks repeatedly, reliably, and safely. Realtime Robotics has developed hardware-agnostic software to run and coordinate industrial workcells smoothly without error or collision.

“The lack of coordination on the fly is a key reason why we don’t see multiple robots in many applications today — even in machine tending, where multiple arms could be useful,” said Peter Howard, CEO of Realtime Robotics (RTR). “We’re planning with Mitsubishi Electric to put our motion planner into its CNC controller.”

The company last month received strategic investment from Mitsubishi Electric Corp. as part of its ongoing Series B round. Realtime Robotics said it plans to use the funding to continue scaling and refining its motion-planning optimization and runtime systems. 

Last week, a high-ranking delegation from Mitsubishi Electric visited Realtime Robotics to celebrate the companies’ collaboration. RTR demonstrated a workcell with four robot arms from different vendors, including Mitsubishi, that was able to optimize motion as desired in seconds.

“Mitsubishi Electric is a multi-business conglomerate, a technology leader, and one of the leading suppliers of factory automation products worldwide,” said Dr. Toshie Takeuchi, executive officer and group president for factory automation systems at Mitsubishi. “I see this partnership as the perfect point where experience meets innovation to create value for our customers, stakeholders, and society.”

She and Howard answered the following questions from The Robot Report:

Mitsubishi Electric, Realtime Robotics integrate technologies

How is Realtime Robotics’ motion-optimization software unique? How will it help Mitsubishi Electric’s customers?

Takeuchi: Realtime Robotics’ software is unique in many ways. It starts with the ability to do collision-free motion planning. From there, the motion planning in single robot cells as well as multirobot cells can be automatically optimized for cycle time.

Our customers will benefit by optimizing cycle time to improve production efficiency and reducing the amount of engineering efforts required for equipment design.

Howard: Typically, to provide access for multiple tools at once, you need an interlocked sequence, which loses time. According to the IFR [which recognized the company for its “choreography” tool], up to 70% of the cost of a robot is in programming it.

With RapidPlan, we automatically tune for fixed applications, saving time. Our cloud service can consume files and send back an optimized motion plan, enabling hundreds of thousands of motions in a couple of hours. It’s like Google Maps for industrial robots.

Does Mitsubishi have a timeframe in mind for integrating Realtime’s technology into its controls for factory automation (FA)? When will they be available?

Takeuchi: We are starting by integrating RTR’s motion-planning and optimization technology into our 3D simulator to significantly improve equipment and system design.

Our plan is to incorporate this technology into our FA control systems, including PLCs and CNCs, and this integration is currently under development and testing, with a launch expected soon.

Howard: We’re currently validating and characterizing for remote optimization with customers. We’re also doing longevity testing here at our headquarters.

In the demo cell, you couldn’t easily program 1.7 million options for four different arms, but RapidPlan automates motion planning and calculates space reservations to avoid obstacles in real time. We do point-to-point, integrated spline-based movement.

Toyota asked us for a 16-arm cell to test spot welding, and we can add a second controller for an adjacent cell. We can currently control up to 12 robots for welding high and low on an auto body.

Mitsubishi Electric recently launched the RV-35/50/80 FR industrial robots — are they designed to work with Realtime’s technology?

Takeuchi: Yes, they are. Our robots are developed on the same platform which seamlessly integrate with RTR’s technology.

Howard: For example, Sony uses Mitsubishi robots to manufacture 2-cm parts, and we can get down to submillimeter accuracy if it’s a known object with a CAD file.

Cobots are fine for larger objects and voxels, but users must still conduct safety assessments.

MELCO's Dr. Takeuchi changes optimization parameters during RTR demonstration.

MELCO’s Dr. Takeuchi changes optimization parameters during RTR demonstration by Kevin Carlin, chief commercial officer. Source: Realtime Robotics

RTR optimizes motion for multiple applications

What sorts of applications or use cases do Mitsubishi and Realtime expect to benefit from closer coordination among robots?

Takeuchi: Our interaction with and understanding from customers suggest that almost all manufacturing sites are continuously in need of increasing production, efficiency, profitability, and sustainability.

With our collaboration, we can reduce the robots’ cycle time, hence increasing efficiency. Multi-robot applications can collaborate seamlessly, increasing throughput and optimizing floor space.

By implementing collision-free motion planning, we help our customers reduce the potential for collisions, thereby reducing losses and improving overall performance.

Howard: It’s all about shortening cycle times and avoiding collisions. In Europe, energy efficiency is increasingly a priority, and in Japan, floor space is at a premium, but throughput is still the most important.

Our mission is to make automation simpler to program. For customers like Mitsubishi, Toyota, and Siemens, the hardware has to be industrial-grade, and so does the software. We talk to all the OEMs and have close relationships with the major robot suppliers.

This is ideal for uses cases such as gluing, deburring, welding and assembly. RapidSense can also be helpful in mixed-case palletizing. For mobile manipulation, RTR’s software could plan for the motion of both the AMR [autonomous mobile robot] and the arm.

Members of Realtime Robotics and Mitsubishi Electric's teams celebrate their partnership.

Members of Realtime Robotics and Mitsubishi Electric’s teams celebrate their collaboration. Source: Realtime Robotics

Mitsubishi strengthens partnership

Do you expect that the addition of a member to Realtime Robotics’ board of directors will help it jointly plan future products with Mitsubishi Electric?

Takeuchi: Yes. Since our initial investment in Realtime Robotics, we have both benefited from this partnership. We look forward to integrating the Realtime Robotics technology into our portfolio of products to continue enhancing our next-gen products with advanced features and scalability.

Howard: RTR has been working with Mitsubishi since 2018, so it’s our longest customer and partner. We have other investors, but our relationship with Mitsubishi is more holistic, broader, and deeper.

We’ve seen a lot of Mitsubishi Electric’s team as we create our products, and we look forward to reaching the next steps to market together.


Eugene Demaitre

Eugene Demaitre is editorial director of the robotics group at WTWH Media. He was senior editor of The Robot Report from 2019 to 2020 and editorial director of Robotics 24/7 from 2020 to 2023. Prior to working at WTWH Media, Demaitre was an editor at BNA (now part of Bloomberg), Computerworld, TechTarget, and Robotics Business Review.

Demaitre has participated in robotics webcasts, podcasts, and conferences worldwide. He has a master’s from the George Washington University and lives in the Boston area.