User Update Number 20
This is our twentieth user update. It’s sent to companies that have invested in ExR-1 and/or ExR-2 robots (or robot demonstrations), and our supply chain partners. For the first time we’ll also publish it on our website and extracts on our LinkedIn account.
We’ve increased the price of our ExR-2 robots by 10% from 1st January 2023. This is our first price increase in 5 years and is needed to cover the increased cost of labour and materials. We’ve also introduced significant premiums for customers that lease less than 10 robots. This will enable ExRobotics to survive while customers continue to perform extended tests and trials with single robots.
Now that our ExR-2 robots are reliable we’re seeing more customers performing regular operational missions (Section 2). This is being facilitated by our new Customer Success Journey (Section 3). We’ll be releasing some exciting new ExR-2 improvements in Q1 2023 (Section 4).
More customers are performing regular operational ExR-2 missions
We reported in our last user update that one of our customers has a fleet of 11 robots, that they perform regular missions, and that one of those missions gathers data from 190 points of interest for analysis in the cloud. We continue to work with them to increase the proportion of “flawless missions” which is typically at around 90% if environmental issues are excluded (e.g. unexpected objects on a robot’s route). Energy Robotics’ Human Robot Supervisor (HRS) service has increased the proportion of completed missions to 100%. This is because the HRS remotely monitors all missions and intervenes if the mission comes to an unexpected halt. Usually the intervention is minor and often it provides information to debug the autonomy software. All of this is done within clear constraints that are agreed with the customer.
One of our other ExR-2 robots has been performing daily missions at a Singapore petrochemical facility without any physical human intervention for 6 months. The flawless mission ratio is also around 90%. This would not have been possible without the hard work of our Delft hardware team who are fully committed to our flawless mission objective.
It’s great to see other customers actively deploying robots at operational facilities and we hope that this is a sign that market growth will accelerate in 2023:
- New customers in Germany and Spain are performing daily, autonomous operational missions.
- An international oil and gas company is about to perform endurancerials in Scotland in preparation for operational missions at an onshore normally unmanned facility.
Our new “Customer Success Journey” accelerates customer benefits
Since the last user update we’ve been deploying and refining our Customer Success Journey (CSJ) methodology as illustrated below.
We’ve helped customers to overcome well-known challenges such as connecting the docking station, configuring firewalls, and establishing a reliable 4G connection. We’ve also helped them to familiarise themselves with the user-interface especially the autonomy software. In the past it’s taken weeks or even months before these challenges are resolved. This can destroy a robot’s credibility in the eyes of a facility’s operations team. The CSJ typically overcomes these issues within a few days so that a robot is successfully performing daily autonomous missions within 1 week. The CSJ also builds working relationships between the robotics and operations teams to facilitate the wider roll-out of robot technology.
We’ll be sharing our experience of the CSJ at our next User Group meetings. We’re organising one to coincide with the Sprint Robotics event that’s being held in Singapore on 22nd and 23rd March 2023. We’ve also been asked to organise another for Europe. It would be great if we could include visits to facilities where our robots are being actively used. We’ll be asking some of you if this is possible.
Exciting new ExR-2 improvements for Q1 2023
We’ll deploy a number of improvements in Q1 2023:
- Our LiDAR is enclosed in an Ex enclosure that includes an explosion proof window. This window has limited the range of the LiDAR to less than 30 meters and compromises its performance in heavy rain. We’ve just registered a patent for “LiDAR glasses” that overcome these limitations and increase the LiDAR’s range to 80 meters. We’ll be retrospectively installing these glasses in existing robots.
- Now that we’ve “debugged” our ExR-2 robots we’ve had time to design a new docking station. There are no fundamental changes to the design so we’ll not be replacing existing docking stations. However, the new version is better aesthetically, is stiffer (for use on uneven surfaces), and includes an optional shelter that prevents rain falling on the inspection module window when the robot’s docked. We’ve also redesigned the inspection camera’s “cap” so that it provides more protection from the rain during missions.
- We’ll start installing a screen in front of the microphone to prevent water from muffling the recorded sound in heavy rain. This is especially important since our software partner – Energy Robotics – has implemented audio analysis input with “lossless” audio recording.
- We’re now installing an absolute temperature version of the FLIR Boson thermal IR camera in new robots instead of the relative temperature version we’ve been using. This camera can be viewed in “greyscale” mode which is better for image processing. Please contact your account manager if you’re interested in exchanging an existing robot’s Boson.
- We’re continuously improving our drive train and by the end of Q1 we plan to have certified a stronger gearbox that will increase the torque of our drive module by 40%. This will improve ExR-2’s manoeuvrability on challenging surfaces.
- We’ll be adding TKH’s dome PTZ camera (with 20 x optical zoom and great low-light performance) and our Infrared leak detection module (with FLIR G300a camera) to ExR-2’s Ex certification. This had been planned for January but will now not happen until later in Q1 2023 because a seal in our new electronics box failed an IP test. This is simple to remedy but will require another month of testing. All other Ex tests have been satisfactorily completed.
- Energy Robotics will be rolling out their new “click and inspect” autonomy software and their V2 user interface which offer a “site-centric” view of a facility. They’ve published an example of how this can be deployed with digital twins. The example is based on Equinor’s decommissioned Huldra facility. Also, they’re rolling out “visual servoing” which enables objects to be located and images captured while the robot is less-precisely positioned. Finally, they’re constantly adding new skills to their store including:
- Improved person detection with face blurring and body pose estimation.
- Valve position detection.
- Fence integrity inspection.
- Inspection for sedimentation around pipe flanges.