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KUKA Robotics introduced a new operating system for its collaborative and industrial robot arms at Hannover Messe 2021. The new KUKA iiQKA.OS operating system is designed to be “as easy to use as a cellphone”. The primary goal of the new OS design is to make it simple enough that new operators don’t require specialized training. This is an important software design goal, especially in the realm of collaborative robotics. Cobots are used in applications where the user/operator is not expected to be a robotics expert. The lack of available workforce is another key factor in reducing the complexity of the system. With fewer workers, programming or reprogramming robotic systems may be done by operators who only interact with the machines occasionally. KUKA used this requirement to guide the design of the new operating system.
Some of the key features of the new operating system include:
- Safe operation of the robot
- Easy to setup
- Visual programming including 3D visualization
- Manual guidance for teaching points
- KUKA smartPAD-based operation
- Support for the existing KUKA Robot Language (KRL)
- Built on a modern, modular software architecture
- Responsive, web-based design
- Open source
Watch the following video for a quick, visual tour of the features of the software.
From its inception, the KUKA iiQKA.OS was conceived to be a modern, modular and open software architecture. The software was architected on top of an industry standard Linux kernel. As a result, the operating system has a modularized and containerized design to increase efficiency and speed of development. This also simplified the types of platforms on which the OS can run.
KUKA iiQKA.OS supports Cobots
The KUKA cobot LBR iisy will be the first collaborative robot in the KUKA product line to run exclusively on the new operating system. The KUKA LBR iisy cobot is supported by the iiQKA Ecosystem, including the KR C5 micro robot controller and the new smartPAD pro operator device. KUKA’s aim is not only to make robotics more accessible to newcomers, but also to further develop its existing customer base. In the coming years, KUKA’s goal is for every KUKA product to be equipped with the new iiQKA.OS and iiQKA Ecosystem. The launch of the KUKA iiQKA.OS is only the first step in the new direction.
KUKA iiQKA.OS supports systems integrators
KUKA’s success thus far has been built around delivering a set of products that are easily integrated into customer workflows. To accomplish this, KUKA depends heavily on its systems integration channel. KUKA has built one of the deepest integration channels of any of the major industrial robotics suppliers, with almost 700 integrators worldwide.
The KUKA iiQKA.OS has been designed to be open and include a fully documented set of APIs for all of the major functions. By providing open APIs, system integrators can be confident that any investment in developing software interfaces to other machines on the factory floor will be supported in future versions of the operating system. This is a promise the KUKA has to deliver on if they want to continue to be a market leader.
Designing and delivering an entirely new robotic operating system is no small feat. KUKA has made a huge investment into the creation of the iiQKA.OS operating system, and it is making a huge strategic pivot if the intent is to migrate their entire product line to this new operating system in the coming years.
The tactical decision to deploy it first on a small, collaborative arm is a smart one, as collaborative robots are still only a small part of KUKA’s customer base and revenue. We expect KUKA to be very deliberate in the roll out of the iiQKA.OS operating system throughout the rest of its product line. Meanwhile, existing customers can expect KUKA to continue to support all of their existing software solutions for a period of time. As of press time, there is no direction from KUKA yet about any obsolescence plan for any existing software.