Safeguarding autonomous mobile robotic systems

Nowadays, software is a key component of many products and therefore an important factor for commercial success. Product users expect software to perform error-free at all times and to offer a variety of functions – in the B2B segment as well.

When it comes to product development, this means the installed software components have to be continually improvable and easy to update. This is the reason why modern software is largely developed using the DevOps approach, which makes it possible to implement such recurring updates efficiently.

DevOps in practical tests of actual robotic systems

DevOps principles have revolutionized software engineering: They promote more robust systems, faster release cycles and greater efficiency. In highly complex systems, such as robots or embedded systems as commonly used in industry, three key factors complicate software development under DevOps:

  1. The combination of hardware and software (for example, the combination of artificial intelligence, sensors and actuators)
  2. Uncertainty due to the operational environment (such as interaction with people)
  3. Distributed infrastructure (for example, a combination of cloud services and local services)

To compensate for these factors, the Fraunhofer Institute for Cognitive Systems IKS and Magazino GmbH conducted the research project “RoboDevOps – Continuous development and safeguarding of autonomous, mobile robotic systems” to research new DevOps concepts and evaluate them based on specific scenarios. The project was funded by the Bavarian Ministry of Economic Affairs, Regional Development and Energy.

Whereas other work in the DevOps area and existing technologies in other projects are limited to the creation and testing of pure software packages, the joint project by Fraunhofer IKS and Magazino GmbH focused on integrated hardware and software in order to integrate adaptable robots in actual applications.

As such, the project concentrates on the following key points:

  1. Reducing lead times through automated test selection and testing procedures
  2. Increasing test quality through the systematic selection of test scenarios, the testing of non-deterministic robotic systems and the development of methods and metrics for assessing behavioral quality
  3. Greater control over which software is installed on which robots, based on methods for controlled feature roll-out and release management
  4. Runtime monitoring and analysis of robots in the field, to measure quality and gain insights for subsequent update cycles

Expanding expertise for industry

Germany already has a powerful robotics industry, which consists of both established companies in the industrial robotics and mobile robotics fields as well as a variety of startups and spin-offs from universities and research centers. All of these companies face the challenge of achieving the desired flexibility in the programming of robots while at the same time maintaining consistently high quality. As such, the country as a whole can benefit from the results of the research project “RoboDevOps – Continuous development and safeguarding of autonomous, mobile robotic systems”.

The project also generated significant added value for manufacturers: Many of these companies are increasingly using AGVs (automated guide vehicles) in their intralogistic processes, such as the on-site transportation of boxes and pallets. Some of these companies – particularly those in the automotive industry and their suppliers – are establishing their own expertise for developing these autonomous transporters. As such, even these traditionally strong companies benefit both from more robust and more mature mobile robotics systems as well as from improved software engineering products for their in-house development of robotic systems.

DevOps for cyber-physical systems

As part of this project, which began in October 2020 and ran through September 2022, Fraunhofer IKS and Magazino GmbH have produced a white paper on the challenges and potential of DevOps for the development of cyber-physical systems. In this, the researchers answer questions such as how DevOps differs from traditional software development and how DevOps processes can be implemented in view of the challenges posed.

If you already have experience with DevOps at your company or are interested in the subject, we look forward to hearing from you.

Likewise, if you have any questions about the project, its research issues and its objectives, please do not hesitate to get in touch with the contacts listed here.

The project is being sponsored by the Bavarian Ministry of Economic Affairs, Regional Development and Energy (StMWi).