Mobile robots have come a long way, and are continuously being improved in their performance capacities and in their ability to deliver returns on investment. As this occurs, they are being adopted at lightning speed, particularly in the logistics industry. Big companies, like Proctor & Gamble, that possess massive distribution networks are at the forefront.

For large companies, three distinct types of mobile industrial robots have proved themselves to be the most effective for adoption: small self-guided vehicles, large mobile platforms, and mobile manipulators (robots with moving arms).

With the rapid rise of mobile industrial robots and their convergence with the industrial robot industry, safety standards and guidelines for operation have largely been left behind. As mobile robot adoption continues at increasingly faster rates, the need for industry-wide safety standards is only growing.

Safety Standards Currently in Place for Industrial Mobile Robots

At present, there only two. The closest guide published for safe operation is the ANSI/ITSDF B56.5-2012 Safety Standard for Driverless, Automatic Guided Industrial Vehicles and Automated Functions of Manned Industrial Vehicles. For robots in particular, there is also the ANSI/RIA R15.06-2012 Industrial Robots and Robot Systems – Safety Requirements.

While both guides are important, they are now dated and leave gaps that simply fail to cover the latest technology. As mobile industrial robots become more and more autonomous, gaining the ability to adjust their path while moving, and adopting new features such as robotic arms, updated safety standards are needed to ensure the continued well-being of those involved.

Robot Safety Standards in Development

The Robotic Industries Association (RIA) has teamed up with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and other major industry representatives to develop new safety standards for mobile industrial robots.

The first parts of the new safety standards will cover guidelines for robot manufacturers and integration services, and the draft should be completed by late 2017. The final document is projected to be published in early 2019.

In terms of safety standards writing, this is an extremely fast timeline. It reveals not only the urgent need for safety standards to be put in writing, but also the expectation that the mobile robot industry will continue to grow at breakneck speed.

These safety committees have many important questions to resolve in a short space of time, with major consequences for safety on the line. Despite the challenge, those involved firmly believe they will be able to complete an extensive set of guidelines within the timeline.

To learn more about mobile industrial robot safety standards, the National Robot Safety Conference (NRSC) will give an update on safety standards their first day. The NRSC agenda can be viewed here.