Consumer robot designs present a challenge for Li-ion batteries
Blue Frog’s Buddy robot can follow you around while screening your Skype calls, check your child’s spelling homework with them, and monitor your house while you’re out to warn you about potential fires or break ins
While most people’s idea of what robots do today might be based on industrial robots that put cars together on an assembly line, in fact, the consumer sector is fast emerging as a viable market for small, portable robots. These robots are taking advantage of advances in technology that mean very intelligent systems can be made in compact, lightweight form factors at viable cost. Consumer robots on the market today include those aimed at the learning and education sectors, as well as helper or companion robots that are used in the home.
For example, Blue Frog’s Buddy robot (above) is a small home companion that interacts with all members of the family. Buddy is ideal as an educator and entertainer for children – he can play spelling and counting games – but he can also entertain the family with music and videos. He can manage the family’s schedules, act as an alarm clock and even provide basic home security functionality. For elderly people, he’s available as a companion, to facilitate Skype calls, and to remind the user about events, appointments and medications, while monitoring for falls or unusual activity that could be cause for alarm. Buddy is 56cm tall and weighs 5kg, getting around on three wheels. He has 3D vision and can easily track and interpret hand, arm and head movements.
As another example, Leka is an interactive multi-sensory smart toy designed for children with special educational needs. Its form factor is a circular ball that the child can pick up, and it has a screen that initiates educational games. It is equipped with sensors to detect the child’s interactions, and it can respond either on the screen or by lighting up in different colours (for example, if the robot is thrown to the ground, it glows red to indicate sadness). Leka’s functionality is customisable to meet the individual needs of their child owners, and the robot can also keep a record of the child’s progress.
Leka is an educational toy that is designed for children with special educational needs. It educates through simple games and interactions and can be customised for a child’s individual needs
For companion and education robots like Buddy and Leka, batteries are a very important part of the system. The right battery can make or break a robot’s design as the battery selection dictates how long the robot can go between charging (for Buddy, it’s about 8-10 hours), as well as how heavy the robot is and what its form factor can be. Safety is another big consideration. The Li-ion batteries typically used byconsumer devices need to be charged carefully to ensure electrical safety, while mechanical safety is also critical. The batteries also have to be absolutely robust as they are moving objects that are handled (and mishandled) by children, so any damage that could result in leakage is obviously unacceptable.
The clear choice for compact robot designs is Li-ion batteries as they have the highest energy density of all the types commonly available. Avnet Abacus carries a wide range of battery packs suitable for this application. Standard Li-ion battery packs from manufacturers such as Varta, GP Batteries and Panasonic are available with short lead times and low MOQs. Click here to see the full catalogue
One option that has proved particularly popular for small robots is RRC’s smart battery range, which includes the RRC2020 battery pack (11.25V/8850mAh/99.6Wh), along with the RRC2024 and RRC2040. These battery packs offer high energy density – they are optimised below the 100W limit imposed by the Dangerous Goods Ordinance – combined with fast charging and long lifetime. Features include impedance tracking which means manual recalibration isn’t necessary as the batteries age, along with cell balancing functionality, which ensures the maximum possible lifetime. Comprehensive charging/discharging safety systems such as temperature dependent load profiles are also present alongside passive safety electronics. These batteries are particularly effective when used alongside RRC’s chargers.
RRC’s smart Li-ion battery range is suitable for small robots
All standard battery packs from Avnet Abacus meet the approvals required for international shipping of Li-ion products, including UN38.3, IEC62133 and UL2054. While custom battery pack designs are possible, the time and cost involved in testing for the applicable international standards means that in most applications, standard battery packs are a much more realistic option. Testing a custom Li-ion battery product for these certifications can cost tens of thousands of dollars and some require regular ongoing factory audits to ensure the standards are being met. Using standard products avoids this cost and hassle and enables the fastest possible time to market. Standard battery packs come in a wide range of specs and form factors to meet the needs of today’s compact, power hungry robot designs.
If you have a question about Li-ion batteries or you would like to discuss your battery requirements with our technical specialists, click the Ask an Expert button to get in touch.