Acutronic Robotics produces the first ever modular robotic arm in its headquarters in Vitoria, Spain. In collaboration with first-class providers from all around the world like Robotiq and Han’s Robot Acutronic Robotics has also recently launched the world’s first modular robot grippers and robot joins.

This article was first published in the February 2019 newsletter of Hisparob, the Spanish Robotics Technology Platform.

  • “We have tackled one of the main bottlenecks in the industry; integration”.
  • “Thanks to our H-ROS technology, we achieve flexibility, adaptability and security for human-machine interaction”
  • “We guarantee real-time and below one millisecond adjusted synchronization within our modularity stack”.

Víctor Mayoral Vilches, Acutronic Robotics CEO

After great success in the field of modular drones with Erle Robotics, Mayoral and his team have taken a step forwards onto industrial modular robotics. Two years of strong R&D activity have led to the maturation of the H-ROS technology, and the launching of their first products. Acutronic Robotics can now be considered a leader in the segment of modular robotics for industrial ends, a “pivotal” niche, believes Mayoral.

Why do you focus on modular robotics?

Modularity is one of the main cornerstones in the future of robotics. Making components from different manufacturers easily compatible is just one example of how the industry’s potential can be greatly unlocked by modularity. In fact, integration is one of the most time and resource consuming bottlenecks in applied robotics. Believe it or not, integrating robot parts is way more expensive than making or programming them. Our approach makes every component a self-contained module able to communicate with equals without much of an effort.

How do you envision the future of robotics?

We imagine a future where making, maintaining, using and adapting robots is an easy task, accessible for all industrial players, including SMEs. Modules that speak with other modules regardless of their manufacturer. Flexible machines ready to adapt to new tasks. Ultimately, we also think about robots that are easy to operate without needing any particular training, just as easy as using a smartphone.

You were known for your work in the drones industry and know, after selling the start-up you funded you’re coming into industrial robotics. Can you tell us more about the transition?

My brother David and I founded Erle in 2014 to make drones manufacturing easier. After selling the company, we took separate paths, he’s now taking his own endeavour, by founding a robot cyber-security start-up and I took over leadership of Acutronic Robotics, the company resulting of the acquisition of Erle by the Swiss conglomerate Acutronic. We are now a dynamic team of some 30 young men and women and we’ve just launched our first range of products: a ROS 2 native modular robotic arm, an open controller for robots, modular robot grippers and robot motors… They’re having a fantastic performance in the market and we’re excited about that.

What’s ROS?

ROS is a stack of robot programming tools. It’s and open code, flexible framework to create robot software. Its origins are in the University of Stanford in California back in 2007, nowadays many if not the most of robotic manufacturers are working with ROS.

Acutronic Robotics has just been welcomed in the ROS 2 Technical Steering Committee, where giants like Amazon, Intel or Microsoft are also sitting. What does this mean?

This is huge for us. It means we will be active decision-makers in the development of the latest version of the most popular robotic framework;  ROS 2. This steering committee is setting the agenda to accelerate the adoption of ROS 2 at all levels. Thanks to being open source and to the solidity of the players supporting it, ROS has become incredibly popular in the investigative community. Now, as we could see in the IROS Madrid 2018 show, the number of industrial players betting on ROS to make robots smarter and simpler is growing exponentially by the day.

Your revolutionary idea was to create H-ROS, what’s this all about?

It’s a standardised software and hardware infrastructure making different components interoperable. With H-ROS we achieve flexibility, adaptability and security for human-machine interaction. We give each sensor, actuator, or end-effector self-contained life by hosting the ROS 2 ecosystem locally and in a distributed manner in each component. If I eliminate or change a piece the whole continues to work, If I add a piece, it adapts to the whole. It’s a game-changing approach.

You’ve been supported by Sony, DARPA…

Back in the day we received funding by US DoD DARPA to investigate and develop our core technology, H-ROS. Some time after that we received funding from the Swiss group Acutronic and last year we received crucial financial and strategic support coming from SONY a key player in the tech sector both in Asia and the rest of the word.

Now you work with big industrial players such as Robotiq, Xilinx o Han’s Robot…

Yes, and we have many more to be announced in the next few months. It’s always nice to have a surprise ready. We’ve collaborated with Robotiq and Han’s to launch the first modular robot grippers and robot joints. With Xilinx we are building a very interesting partnership overtime, around H-ROS SoM (System on Module), the stack where our tech is implemented.

Do you sell these components?

Exactly. We use H-ROS to make hardware parts intelligent modules that speak ROS2 and interact with other such modules.  Thanks to our tech and in  a simple way we make these components not only speak the same language -communication interface and data layer-, but also the same dialect -communication protocol, network layer and transport-. Furthermore, within our modularity stack H-ROS we enable real-time capabilities and below one millisecond synchronization. We will soon also have modular torque sensors. Beyond the modules, we also sell our own modular robotic arm, MARA.

What makes MARA different to other 'cobots'?

MARA is even more flexible and adaptable to any particular application than any other cobot. Because every part executes ROS independently, they can operate in an independent manner, overcoming vendors’ traditional lock-in.

What’s your target?

MARA is targeted to industrial SMEs to what has come to be denominated RaaS (Robot as a Service). This makes robot automation accessible to smaller companies who can’t or don’t want to incorporate a fixed asset and who want to benefit from having an expert solution provider giving them a flexible, holistic option. We don’t only want to be revolutionary in our tech, but also in our business model and in our clientele, we want to bring robots to small local businesses. However, nowadays, a significant amount of our clients come from research centers from all around the world and who are interested in our robots and the disruptive innovation behind the modular approach.

What makes you look at SMEs?

They’re the present of robot automation. Big robots for big factories were what we all thought about when speaking of automation, but nowadays small collaborative robots or cobots are more and more joining humans and working alongside them in smaller production sites.

But you go a step forward…

Yes, we don’t only provide the equipment, but a comprehensive service that can be terminated at any point. Technological flexibility also means less operative cost and financial flexibility. When an application is terminated, the robot can be logically and mechanically adapted for the needs of another client.

How do you envision the future of robotics in Spain?

Spain is one of the countries with more units of robots incorporated annually. According to IFR, 4,200 industrial robots where installed in Spain in 2017, placing this country as number 12 in the world. Now Spanish companies can opt for national technology, being MARA  the first Made in Spain industrial robot and the worldwide champion in modularity.