Distributed control and monitoring of autonomous and remote-controlled robots, drones, and vehicles must work even when connectivity is unreliable. This is critical for systems in mining, underwater, and aerospace applications. Real-Time Innovations Inc. today announced the release of RTI Connext 6.1, the latest version of its software framework for cyber-physical systems.
Real-Time Innovations (RTI) said Connext shares data directly, connecting artificial intelligence algorithms to real-time networks of devices. The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company said its software has more than 1,500 designs and runs over 250 autonomous vehicle programs, coordinates combat management for U.S. Navy ships, and is used in medical robotics. RTI sells products compliant with the Object Management Group's Data Distribution Standard (DDS).
“For the past two years, we've been identifying the most important trends to address,” said David Barnett, vice president of products and markets at RTI. “Everything we've done is in response to customer feedback.”
“OEMs and systems integrators need to process data quickly for controls—tens of microseconds to hundreds of milliseconds,” he told Robotics 24/7. “They have high data volumes and need low latency, high reliability, and high resilience with built-in health monitoring. And, with different types of sensing and data fusion, they need security without adding overhead, as with conventional IT security techniques.”
RTI Connext 6.1 provides network support
Unlike other distributed software frameworks that assume reliable connections, RTI claimed that Connext 6.1 can support and optimize communications across highly variable local-area networks (LAN) and wide-area networks (WAN).
“Mobile systems may switch networks for things like navigating across cities or switching patient monitoring from Wi-Fi to cellular,” Barnett said. “Real-Time WAN Transport is designed to make remote control technically feasible and affordable, regardless of distance. It eliminates the need for custom-developed software, and communication details and complexity are under the hood.”
“The Cloud Discovery Service in Connext 6.1 enables decentralized, peer-to-peer communications,” he added. “Thus, applications discover each other, and Network Address Translation traversal works with no brokers or servers, avoiding a single point of failure.”
“The WAN Transport feature is one of the fastest and easiest ways to achieve peer-to-peer UDP WAN communication, especially for projects already using RTI Connext DDS, but also for those using other middleware or even starting from scratch,” said Charles Cross, co-founder and chief technology officer at Mission Robotics. “We were able to create a proof of concept from scratch that allowed us to remotely control and monitor a robot over the Internet in only three hours. Considering the time and resources that would have gone into this effort otherwise, this is an absolute game changer.”
Connext 6.1 also includes built-in support for data compression, optimizing bandwidth usage on constrained networks, and increasing effective throughput, said RTI.
RTI supports developers
Robotics and vehicle developers may be working with tens of millions of lines of code, so Connext 6.1 is intended to make it easier for them to build large-scale and heterogeneous distributed systems, Barnett said.
“RTI Connext includes libraries, runtime services, and APIs [application programming interfaces] to ease development, integration, and scaling,” he explained. “RTI connects the data bus, enabling modular, scalable development of streaming analytics and controls, human-machine interfaces, sensors, and actuators.”
Connext 6.1 includes support for .NET Core 5, enabling developers to use C# and run their applications on any platform that supports .NET Standard 2.0, said RTI. This includes Windows, Linux, MacOS, and the Unity game engine for visualization, said Barnett.
“The new System Designer tool gives developers visual insight into data types so they can validate configurations and verify compatibility and interoperability,” he added. “And the RTI Administration Console includes new graphical views. The old network view was OK for tens of components, but nodes are easier for visualizing hundreds.”
RTI Connext 6.1 is intended to enable developers to build more reliable remotely controlled and autonomous machines. Source: RTI
The road to XaaS
“The road to XaaS, or everything as a service, is increasing levels of autonomy,” said Barnett. “As you automate a formerly manual process, such as pick and place, you can train a robot with camera data so it knows what it's supposed to do. Then you need to collaborate across different systems—from one operator to many robots.”
“The goal is for the human operator to work at a higher level rather than directly piloting,” he noted. “We've even run with NASA or the European Space Agency, managing terrestrial vehicles from space or vice versa.”
“Connext 6.1 is available with an annual subscription or for free for evaluation, research, and academic use,” Barnett said. “Some of our customers in marine and mining applications have been working with beta versions. We definitely expect interest in oil and gas, and agriculture and construction have similar use cases.”
“By providing support for mobility, scalability, and heterogeneity, Connext 6.1 allows for control by phone, cloud, or remote operations center,” he said. “By empowering operators and decision makers, this is a step to movement or materials handling as a service.”
About the Author
Eugene Demaitre is editorial director of Robotics 24/7. Prior to joining Peerless Media, he was a senior editor at Robotics Business Review and The Robot Report. Demaitre has also worked for BNA (now part of Bloomberg), Computerworld, and TechTarget. He has participated in numerous robotics-related webinars, podcasts, and events worldwide.
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