CityBot: Modular, configurable, multi-function platform is the future of mobility


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Image courtesy of EDAG


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CityBot: EDAG Engineering Group - Closed-loop Engineering

EDAG Engineering uses closed loop engineering and generative design to modify parts to match each application

The modular electric pod silently scoots a public park collecting trash, autonomously placing it in litter bins. Another identical pod – or mobile “bot” – docks smoothly to a forklift attachment and roams a giant warehouse to lift and store goods. Another bot effortlessly couples to a transport bogie, transforms into a minibus, and drives passengers on a programmed route.

The concept is brilliant in its simplicity – a fixed but modifiable mobile robotic core, the bot, which is adaptable to multiple uses, is autonomous, and captures live usage data to improve the design of the Bot’s iteration for a new application – a process called closed-loop engineering. Customers can customize their CityBot fleet, which operates in the field using principles of swarm intelligence, to applications like urban transport, material handling, civic services, baggage handling, and even leisure. 

Old challenges solved by new, digital processes

A completely new transportation concept, CityBot is the invention of EDAG Engineering Group, a global tier-one engineering consultancy and manufacturer of automotive and aerospace components and electronics, with support from Autodesk Global Consultancy. Modular, configurable, autonomous, 24-hour, intelligent, and – importantly – quiet and safe, CityBot is an excellent example of the future of mobility. 

EDAG knew there were several problems with the “business as usual” procurement of electro-mechanical parts to vehicle manufacturers.

Firstly, conventional design-and-manufacture methods take a long time. EDAG’s engineers saw that, despite close collaboration and sophisticated IT, there can be still disconnected workflows between design, simulation, preparation, and manufacturing.  Secondly, normal product development typically requires several manual steps and multiple design iterations, both of which increase development costs.

Thirdly, to optimize a modifiable vehicle design specific parts need customizing to match the changing usage conditions. This process can be a slow and expensive process with design-to-manufacture conventional methods.

EDAG’s solution was to develop a closed-loop engineering process with the help of Autodesk. This process connects the product or part design to the field application, using data captured at the components, in a continuous development process. The data could be the number of accelerations and forces applied to the part, tracked, recorded, and used to optimize or change the next iterations of the part.

This creates a CityBot digital twin environment, and it also allows a more responsive and flexible production process. The age-old, conventional method of manufacturing never uses this field data, in a constant feedback loop, to suggest design changes for the next generation of parts. The closed-loop engineering cycle is summarized as 1. Data collection at the part, 2. Automated part development, leading to 3. Flexible manufacturing, that quickly produces the bot version that suits the customer.

“Closed-loop engineering is the idea of permanently optimizing parts using feedback,” says Johannes. “With all the sensors embedded in our parts, we know precisely if the part is stressed, which parts need to be improved, lighter or stronger for each function.”

Johannes Barckmann, Global Design Manager, EDAG Engineering.

Multiple benefits of closed loop engineering

Once the process has acquired real usage data, it needs powerful generative design algorithms to create iterations of the best part for the job. Sebastian Flügel, Project Leader at EDAG Group, explains. “Having real usage data means our engineers can calculate the specific requirements for, for example, the wheel mount. The big change [from the old process] is that generative design creates the geometry automatically, and with Autodesk Fusion 360 we can automatically recalculate these products, and we can create new solutions based on the changed conditions.”

Generative design, a core component of the closed-loop model, calculates the most optimum part design quickly, saving time, producing a design with only the necessary material to support the structure with little or no excess material. This creates lighter parts with no reduction in performance, less material and carbon, and a more sustainable product.

So often in the traditional engineering-and-make businesses, the customer is given something close to their ideal product, but compromises on cost or durability or weight must be made for the process to be economically viable. Giving customers feedback data from CityBot’s actual usage and showing how the closed-loop technology is harnessed to optimize and change the design, means customers are getting the closest to the perfect product for their application.

EDAG and other OEMs in the automotive and transportation manufacturing industries are constantly exploring ideas for the future of mobility, especially better ways to match the products they design to the real needs of the application, in less time and using fewer resources. They are using digital transformation technologies to achieve this.

CityBot is a perfect example of the future of mobility and could be a disruptive force in applications like material handling and civic transport. Why does a city council, for example, need many vehicle variants that are costly and resource-inefficient, when a single optimized bot design can be coupled to numerous functional attachments? The same bot can do a different job each day.

“The closed-loop engineering method allows EDAG CityBots to continuously adapt to changing mobility needs and requirements. Like living creatures in nature, technical products can now also continuously develop further – a technical evolution is achieved,” Sebastian says.

With CityBot in an advanced stage of commercial production, look out for more examples of closed-loop engineering applied to products in-vehicle, aerospace, and energy manufacturing.

“All the data we capture can be used to individualize and adapt the CityBot to the specific needs of a very small, specific area of operation,” says Sebastian Flügel. Nothing is over-designed or wasted.

Sebastian Flügel, Project Leader, EDAG Engineering.

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