Robotics, the Next Generation

By Rich Miron

Contributed By Digi-Key Electronics

It is a fact that there is a steady increase in the use of robots. While there are some opponents that say that automation will result in the loss of human jobs, all the evidence so far indicates that robotics improve productivity, safety, cost effectiveness, and actually create new jobs. By the end of this year, the number of industrial robots deployed worldwide is predicted to rise to around 2.6 million units.

International Federation of Robotics (IFR) figures published last year revealed that there was a global average of 74 industrial robots installed per 10,000 employees. These figures also showed this average was notably higher in countries where there was increasing measured productivity. For example, Germany, Singapore, and The Republic of Korea showed the most installed robots per 10,000 employees with figures at 309, 488, and 631, respectively.

Additionally, in the automotive sector in Germany for example, there was a parallel increase in the number of employees as robotic automation grew. This positive effect on the number of jobs due to increased automation has been confirmed by a study published by the ZEW (Center for European Economic Research), in partnership with the University of Utrecht. From this, one can surmise that the reduced production costs resulting from increased automation brings down market prices which makes the products more attractive to consumers and increases demand. With this increasing demand, more job growth is triggered.

Furthermore, industry and manufacturing are not the only areas where robots are having an impact. They increasingly are making strides outside of factories by either, for example, increasing on-line shopping efficiencies in regards to deliveries or creating more student excitement about STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math).

In order to develop the most intelligent and sophisticated robot systems, innovative analog and embedded technologies are required. To help get a deeper understanding of how robotic system designs work, Texas Instruments (TI) offers learning kits that are helping students fill in a gap in current engineering curriculums. The following discusses some of TI’s tools currently available:

Industrial robots

TIDA-01600 - Smart Brake Control and Diagnostics Reference Design for Servo Drives and Robotics: This TI reference design (Figure 1) provides two-channel output signals to control an external holding brake to implement safe brake control functionality in servo drives as per IEC EN 61800-5-2. Functionally, the holding brake is latched when the power is cut off from the brake operating coil and released when voltage is applied. To accomplish this, the smart electronic load switches that supply power to the coil are enabled/disabled. Diagnostic features are also included in this reference design for detecting various faults which ensures safe operation. To generate the brake control signals and perform the diagnostics, the design uses the C2000 Launchpad.

Image of Texas Instruments’ TIDA-01600 Servo Drive and Robotics Smart Brake Reference Design

Figure 1: Texas Instruments’ TIDA-01600 Servo Drive and Robotics Smart Brake Reference Design. (Image source: Texas Instruments)

LMZ14201TZ-ADJ/NOPB - SIMPLE SWITCHER Power Module for High Output Voltage: The TI LMZ1420x Series power modules feature an integrated shielded inductor, a simple PCB layout, and a flexible startup sequencing using external soft-start and precision enable. Protection against inrush currents and input UVLO and output short circuit protection are provided by these power modules. Their reduced system heat generation results from their high efficiency. This series of power modules each have with a single exposed pad and a standard pin-out for mounting and manufacturing ease.

ISO7842: This is a reinforced 4-Channel 2/2 Digital Isolator (certified in accordance to VDE, CSA, CQC, and TUV) that has an 8000-VPK isolation voltage. The ISO7842 isolator isolates CMOS or LVCMOS digital I/Os while providing high electromagnetic immunity and low emissions at low-power consumption. Each channel of isolation has a logic input and output buffer separated by insulation barrier consisting of a silicon-dioxide (SiO2) material.

TPS7B6933QDBVRQ1: The TPS7B69xx-Q1 devices are low-dropout linear regulators designed for up to 40 V VI operations. The TPS7B6933QDBVRQ1 device has a 15 µA (typical) quiescent current at light load which makes it suitable for standby microcontroller-unit systems, especially in automotive applications. These devices feature an integrated short-circuit and overcurrent protection and a –40°C to +125°C operating temperature range. These features make the TPS7B6925-Q1, TPS7B6933-Q1, and TPS7B6950-Q1 well suited for use in various automotive power supply applications.

TPS27S100APWPR: The TPS27S100x Smart High-Side Switches from TI are single-channel, fully-protected, high-side switches with integrated NMOS and a charge pump. The TPS27S100APWPR features full diagnostics and high-accuracy current-monitoring which enables intelligent control of the load. There is also an adjustable current-limit function that can greatly improve system reliability. The accurate current monitoring and adjustable current limit features differentiate this device from similar ones currently in the market.

ULN2003APWR: This TI device is a high-current transistor array. The ULN2003APWR consists of seven NPN Darlington pairs that each feature high-voltage outputs with common-cathode clamp diodes for switching inductive loads. Each single Darlington pair in this device has a collector-current rating of 500 mA. These Darlington pairs can be paralleled to support higher current requirements. Some example applications include lamp drivers, display drivers (LED and gas discharge), logic buffers, hammer drivers, line drivers, and relay drivers.

TVS3300DRVR: The TVS3300 offers protection to systems from high power transients or lightning strikes by shunting up to 35 A of IEC 61000-4-5 fault current and provides a solution to the common industrial signal line EMC requirement to survive up to 1 kV IEC 61000-4-5 open circuit voltage coupled through a 42 Ω impedance. This device ensures precise flat clamping during a fault using a unique feedback mechanism that assures that system exposure will be below 40 V. This tight voltage regulation gives designers the ability to confidently select system components with lower voltage tolerances which decreases overall system costs and complexity without sacrificing robustness.

Logistics and service robots

Ultrasonic distance sensor with IO-Link Reference Design - TI Reference Design: This design (Figure 2) features an ultrasonic distance sensor will fit into an M12 housing due to its optimized layout and high level of integration. With its IO-Link interface designed for communication with the system control, this device is Industry 4.0 ready. Ultrasonic sensors are used to detect and/or measure distances objects regardless of their color, transparency, or surface characteristics. This device is able to function in harsh industrial environments such as factories and process plants.

Image of Texas Instruments’ TIDA-01386 Reference Design

Figure 2: Texas Instruments’ TIDA-01386 Reference Design for an Ultrasonic Distance Sensor with IO-Link. (Image source: Texas Instruments)

EtherCAT P® One Cable for Power and EtherCAT® Reference Design - TI Reference Design: The power couple in the circuitry of an EtherCAT P® power sourcing device physical implementation is shown in this reference design. This reference design meets all of the requirements of the official EtherCAT P implementation guide including features such as continuous current limit, in-rush current limit, and reverse polarity protection.

Surge Protection Reference Design for PLC Analog Input Module - TI Reference Design: This design is intended to show the protection capabilities of TI’s 33-V protection devices (such as the TVS3300 previously discussed) designed for factory automation and control. This design has the accuracy required to measure protection device behavior of before and after an EMI stress with respect to leakage and clamping voltage.

TVS3300DRV-EVM: The TVS3300DRV-EVM from TI aids designers in the evaluation of the operation and performance of the TVS3300 (previously discussed), a precision clamp that keeps ultra-low and flat clamping voltage during transient overvoltage events. With this precision surge technology from TI, the TVS3300 clamping voltage exhibits minimal changes regardless of surge current amplitude. It also has a fast response to surges, limiting overshoot voltage when clamping occurs. Two sets of screw terminal headers are included for general purpose inline testing of various connector configurations in the TVS3300DRV-EVM evaluation module. Additionally, two banana plug input ports are included for easy testing and four 50 Ω SMA connectors are also on the board for convenient connection to an oscilloscope.

LM5166DRCT: This device is a compact, easy-to-use, 3 V to 65 V, ultra-low IQ synchronous buck converter. It features a high efficiency over wide input voltage and load current ranges. The integrated high-side and low-side power MOSFETs enable up to 500 mA of output current to be delivered at fixed output voltages of 3.3 V or 5 V, or at an adjustable output. This converter design simplifies implementation while providing options for optimizing target application performance. The LM5166DRCT pulse frequency modulation (PFM) mode option can be selected to obtain optimal light-load efficiency or constant on-time (COT) control for an operating frequency that is nearly constant. It is important to note that neither control schemes require loop compensation to be able to provide excellent line-and-load transient response and short pulse-width modulation (PWM) on-time for large step-down conversion ratios.

PGA460TPWRQ1: TI’s PGA460-Q1 features an advanced DSP core in this highly-integrated system on-chip ultrasonic transducer driver and signal conditioner. The device includes a complimentary low-side driver pair that enables it to drive a transducer in either a transformer-based topology using a step-up transformer or in a direct-drive topology using external high-side FETs. This device has the ability to receive and condition the reflected ultrasonic echo signal for reliable object detection. To do this, an analog front-end (AFE) consisting of a low noise amplifier followed by a programmable time-varying gain stage feeding into an ADC is used. The digitized signal from the ADC is then processed in the DSP core. Both near-field and far-field object detection are then calculated using time-varying thresholds.

MSP430FR5959IRHAR: The MSP430 ultra-low-power (ULP) FRAM platform combines embedded FRAM and ultra-low-power system architecture to allow increased performance with lower energy budgets. TI uses FRAM technology in these devices since it combines the speed, flexibility, and endurance of SRAM with the stability and reliability of flash at much lower power.  The MSP430 ULP FRAM portfolio features of a diverse set of devices that incorporates FRAM, the ULP 16-bit MSP430 CPU, and intelligent peripherals targeted for various applications. The ULP architecture has seven low-power modes, each optimized to achieve extended battery life in various energy-challenged applications.

TIOL111: This family of transceivers features an IO-Link interface for industrial bidirectional, point-to-point communication. The TIOL111 acts as a complete physical layer for communication when connected to an IO-Link master through a three-wire interface. In this case, the master can initiate communication and exchange data with the remote node. The protection features of these devices include the capability of withstanding up to 1.2 kV (500 Ω) of IEC 61000-4-5 surge and integrated reverse polarity protection.

10.8-V/15-W, >90% Efficiency, 2.4-cm2, Power Stage Reference Design for Brushed DC Servo Drive - TI Reference Design: This 15 W power stage reference design (Figure 3) measures just 12 mm x 20 mm. This reference design is intended to drive and control the position of a brushed DC (BDC) motor operating from a three to six cell Li-ion battery. Providing a highly efficient solution, this design is optimized with a very small form factor that can easily fit into a motor case and also support precise motor position control. Additionally, this reference design is also capable of driving a motor at high speed without any position feedback and demonstrates fast and accurate current sensing for quality torque control. Finally, the onboard MCU delivers UART connectivity, enabling controllability with any external controller.

Image of Texas Instruments’ TIDA-01588 Reference Design

Figure 3: Texas Instruments’ TIDA-01588 Reference Design for a Power Stage for a Brushed DC Servo Drive. (Image source: Texas Instruments)

IEPE Vibration Sensor Interface for PLC Analog Input Reference Design - TI Reference Design: A critical component in industrial condition monitoring and a necessity for predictive maintenance is vibration sensing. The most common vibration sensor used in the industrial environment is the integrated electronic piezoelectric (IEPE) sensor. The heart of this reference design (Figure 4) is a full analog front-end for an IEPE sensor interface. This design demonstrates the low-power, flexible high-resolution, high-speed conversion of IEPE sensor data possible in a small-footprint implementation.

Image of Texas Instruments’ TIDA-01471 Vibration Sensor Interface Reference Design

Figure 4: Texas Instruments’ TIDA-01471 Vibration Sensor Interface Reference Design for PLC Analog Inputs. (Image source: Texas Instruments)

MSP430FR2433IRGER: This ultra-low-power MSP430FRx FRAM-based microcontroller family from TI offers the lowest power consumption and a large variety of integrated peripherals for a wide range of low-power and portable applications. These MCUs are perfect for applications where the MCU primarily operates in standby mode. Additionally, the MSP430FRx FRAM-based MCU family has recently added options for extended data logging and security capabilities. The MSP43FR2433 is packaged in a small VQFN package (4 mm × 4 mm), ideal for small form factor industrial sensors, and is combined with a variety of integrated peripherals to complement its ultra-low power consumption.

TPS70933DRVR: The TPS709xx series of linear regulators from TI feature ultra-low quiescent current, ideal for applications that are power-sensitive. These devices have a two percent accuracy over the operating temperature range by using precision band-gap and error amplifier. The low 1 µA quiescent current makes these devices perfect solutions for applications that are battery-powered and always-on with very little idle-state power dissipation. This family of devices has additional safety features including thermal-shutdown, current-limit, and reverse-current protections.

DRV8870DDAR: TI’s DRV8870 is a 3.6 A brushed-DC motor driver for that can be used in applications such as industrial equipment, appliances, printers, and other small machines. The two logic inputs control the four N-channel MOSFET H-bridge motor driver which can control motors bidirectionally with a peak current of 3.6 A. To control motor speed, the inputs can be pulse-width modulated, using selectable current-decay modes. When both inputs are set low, the devices enter a low-power sleep mode. The DRV8870 also features integrated current regulation which is based on the VREF analog input and the pin ISEN voltage which is comes from an external sense resistor through which the motor current is flowing through. The device’s ability to limit the current to a known level significantly reduces system power requirements and the bulk capacitance necessary to maintain stable motor voltage, especially for startup and stall conditions.

ESD122DMXR: This bidirectional TVS ESD protection diode array from TI is designed for USB Type-C™ and HDMI 2.0 circuit protection and is rated to dissipate contact ESD strikes at the specified maximum level stated in IEC 61000-4-2 (17 kV Contact, 17 kV Air-gap). The ESD122 features a low per channel IO capacitance and has a pin-out to suit symmetric differential high-speed signal routing making it ideal for the protection needs of high-speed interfaces of up to 10 Gbps in applications such as USB 3.1 Gen2 and HDMI 2.0. Further system level protection against transient events is ensured by the device’s low dynamic resistance and low clamping voltage. Additionally, the ESD122 is a perfect ESD solution USB Type-C Tx/Rx lines. Since the USB Type-C connector has two layers, using 4-channel ESD devices would require VIAs which degrade the signal integrity. However, using four ESD122 (2-Channel) devices would minimize the number of VIAs and simplify the board layout.

TLV9061IDPWR: The TLV9061, TLV9062, and TLV9064 are single-, dual-, and quad-, respectively, low-voltage (1.8 V to 5.5 V) operational amplifiers (op amps) with rail-to-rail input- and output-swing capabilities. These devices provide highly cost-effective solutions for low-voltage, small footprint, and high capacitive load drive applications. Although the TLV906x capacitive load drive is 100 pF, the resistive open-loop output impedance makes stabilizing with higher capacitive loads simpler. These op amps are designed specifically for low-voltage operation (1.8 V to 5.5 V), as noted earlier, and have performance specifications similar to TI’s TLVx316 and OPAx316 devices.

TVS3300DRVR: See description in the “Industrial Robots” section above.

IWR1642: This device, based on frequency-modulated continuous wave (FMCW) radar technology, is an integrated single-chip mmWave sensor capable of operation in the 76 to 81 GHz band with up to 4 GHz continuous chirp. Built with TI’s low-power 45 nm RFCMOS process, this solution enables unprecedented levels of integration with an extremely small form factor. Solutions ideal for the IWR1642 include low-power, self-monitored, ultra-accurate radar systems in industrial applications such as surveillance, factory automation, material handling, traffic monitoring, building automation, and drones.


Today’s industrial technologies require the most intelligent and sophisticated robot systems along with innovative analog and embedded technologies. To support this, TI offers a wide variety of solutions and reference designs which can speed up and even simplify development.

Disclaimer: The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed by the various authors and/or forum participants on this website do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of Digi-Key Electronics or official policies of Digi-Key Electronics.

About this author

Rich Miron

Rich Miron, Sr. Technical Content Developer at Digi-Key Electronics, has been in the Technical Content group since 2007 with primary responsibility for writing and editing articles, blogs and Product Training Modules. Prior to Digi-Key, he tested and qualified instrumentation and control systems for nuclear submarines. Rich holds a degree in electrical and electronics engineering from North Dakota State University in Fargo, ND.

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Digi-Key Electronics

Digi-Key Electronics, based in Thief River Falls, Minn., is a global, full-service provider of both prototype/design and production quantities of electronic components, offering more than six million products from over 750 quality name-brand manufacturers at Digi-Key.