Robot Safety Update: FAQs

A3 Director of Robotic Standards Development, Carole Franklin, answers common questions she receives regarding Robot Safety Standards.

Are RIA R15.06 free or for purchase?

R15.06 and the related Technical Reports (TRs) are available for purchase on the A3 Website. These documents can be purchased in PDF format for immediate download, or some of them are also available in hard copy. We offer discounts for A3 members, and for purchasing bundles of multiple documents at a time.

Are these standards applicable for collaborative robots, also known as “cobots”?

The answer is, yes. The machines that most people mean by the term "cobots" are, in the standards world, "power-and-force limited" or PFL robots. These machines (PFL or collaborative robots) are a type of industrial robot, not an alternative to them. As such, the Industrial Robot Safety Standard R15.06 does apply to cobots, and systems that include cobots.

When a collaborative robot system is designed, additional factors must be considered beyond what is included in R15.06 (ISO 10218). This additional guidance is contained in TR 606 (ISO/TS 15066), which lays out safety requirements for collaborative robotics. These documents are supplemental to the foundational standard R15.06 (10218); they are meant to be used with the standard, not to replace it.

These documents can be purchased on the A3 Website

What method would you use to test the force settings for a collaborative robot to ensure that the system is safe for human interaction in a given implementation?

Our committee of technical experts has prepared a Technical Report to address exactly this question. This is our TR 806 (short for RIA TR R15.806-2018), titled "Testing Methods for Power & Force Limited Collaborative Applications."

R15.06 and the related Technical Reports (TRs) are available for purchase on the A3 Webstore. Scroll down this webpage until you find the purchasing option that suits you.

Where can the version of R.15.08 for public comment be viewed?

The public comment period closed on August 10, 2020. Edits are being made following consideration of comments received from our decision-making body and from the public; therefore, the public comment draft is outdated and is no longer being made available.

How would you classify mobile robots within the standard R.15.06?

The current edition of R15.06 (10218) does agree that it is possible to use mobile robots safely in an industrial environment, but does not give requirements for how to do so. This turns out to be a quite challenging question that has kept our committee of technical experts busy for several years!

We are currently putting the finishing touches on a separate standard, R15.08, to provide these requirements for industrial mobile robot safety. The committee of technical experts has put a lot of thought into, among other things, classifying the types of mobile machines that we would consider "in scope" as "industrial mobile robots" (IMRs) for the purpose of our new standard.

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Will these standards supersede ISO 31000:2009 ?

The standards world is a complex ecology of interlocking documents that refer to one another. Each separate standard dealing with a similar topic is trying to cover that topic in a particular area that other standards do not already cover.

Typically a given standard is "superseded" only by a later edition of the same standard. In the case of ISO 31000, I understand that the 2009 edition has since been superseded by the 2018 edition of the same document.

There are a number of standards that deal with various aspects of risk management. In our industrial robot safety standards, we refer primarily to those standards that deal with risks specific to industrial machine safety. These include ISO 13849, ANSI/ISO 12100, and others. In our documents we are not trying to supersede or replace any of these excellent general standards, but rather to extend their principles into the specific practice of industrial robotics. Our goal is to start with machine safety as in 13849 or 12100, and identify the special considerations that need to be taken into account for identifying and mitigating potential risks related to the use of industrial robots, as distinct from, let's say, industrial lathes or drills or presses.

How do you imagine IMR Type C playing out? Will manipulators be "collaborative FPV" or industrial arms with safety programmed/added in?

Broadly, what we mean by the IMR Type C in R15.08 is the type of machine often referred to as a "mobile manipulator." It is a robot manipulator (arm) that would be considered an "industrial robot" per R15.06 (10218), but it is mounted to a mobile platform instead of being fixed in place.

As such, it is a class of machine that is already in the marketplace, whether it is designed and built as a single unit (e.g., Fetch), or created by combining a mobile platform with an industrial robot arm of a different brand.

The manipulator aspect of a "mobile manipulator" (IMR Type C) could be a "collaborative" robot arm (power-and-force-limited, or PFL; e.g., Universal Robots) added to a mobile platform, but it could also be a non-collaborative robot arm instead. There are some very large mobile manipulators envisioned for certain applications that would need an extremely high-payload manipulator, and likewise a high-payload mobile platform.

The use of a PFL manipulator as part of the IMR Type C ("mobile manipulator") does not necessarily make the resulting mobile unit collaborative. For example, it might be the case that the mobile platform's motion adds sufficient velocity to the manipulator's motion such that the forces exerted by the manipulator no longer remain within the limits for collaborative use.

How far does the category "industrial" extend?  For example, would laboratory automation (per IEC 61010-2-081) be included?

This is an excellent question, particularly in regard to laboratories. How to define "industrial" is a topic that we in the standards community have discussed many times in many different venues. And the honest answer is, "it depends." It is a gray area. Standards people prefer things to be clear black and white, but nevertheless such gray areas do exist.

The consensus of the experts involved in the development of R15.08 for industrial mobile robot safety is that "industrial" is related to manufacturing a product, and properly encompasses adjacent economic activities such as handling raw materials and warehousing finished products. However, other standards committees have their own interpretation of "industrial" for the purpose of their documents. That's why it's so important to read the Scope and Definitions sections of any standard before you start using it.

Under the meaning of "industrial" being used in R15.08, then, a pharmaceutical laboratory that is involved in producing medication (a tangible product) could be seen as "industrial," and thus, should follow the R15.08 standard. Whereas an academic or government laboratory with an identical robot system installed, on the other hand, would not be seen as "industrial" because it is not producing "a product;" it is producing "knowledge" (an intangible). Yet there are people whose jobs require them to work around the robot systems in such laboratories. In my view, the safety of people who work in laboratories is just as important as the safety of people working in manufacturing facilities.

And so, even though one could make a case that such laboratories are not required to adhere to an "industrial" standard, I personally would recommend that they do. This could be an excellent subject for a Technical Report in the future.

Do these standards apply to autonomous mobile robots like floor cleaning and delivery robots?

Probably not, at this time (Summer 2020). The reason is that we tried to restrain the scope of R15.08 to that of an "industrial environment."

Currently in R15.08, our new safety standard for industrial mobile robots (IMRs), we are defining "industrial environment" more broadly than a strict interpretation of "industrial", which some take to mean manufacturing only. We are considering that, for the purpose of R15.08, "industrial environment" should also include adjacent economic activities such as warehousing and logistics. The "industrial environment" for R15.08 is at least a semi-structured environment with controlled access limited to workers only, who can be trained in the safe use of the IMRs. That is, members of the public do not have free access to the same environment where these IMRs will be operating.

We believe that R15.08 will be a good foundational document whose principles can be extended into areas to which the public is admitted; however, there will likely be additional safety considerations to be taken into account when the robot might encounter a member of the public.

So, a delivery robot that would be operating on public roads and approaching people's homes clearly will be public-facing and thus, is not in scope for R15.08. A floor-cleaning robot is in a bit more of a gray area, since it might be operated at places or times not open to the public.

It might be a good subject for a TR (Technical Report) – what additional considerations need to be taken into account for public-facing robots. At present, though, we need to finish the standard itself before we begin working on any TRs.