How one start-up intends to change the future of robotics

By DavidChadwick

Ross Robotics CEO Philip Norman reinvents the way specialized service robots are designed, developed, and used.

 This guest blog post is by John Fox, VP of Marketing, Mainstream Engineering, Siemens PLM Software.

Powered by new technology, robots are becoming cheaper, smarter, and more autonomous.  As a result more robots are being deployed beyond the automotive factory floor, in diverse market segments like defense, agriculture, and logistics.  These so-called service robots, often used to tackle dull, dirty, or dangerous jobs, comprise one of the fastest growing segments of the robotics industry.  And the International Federation of Robotics reports that technology-driven start-ups are stepping up to meet the growing demand, representing 15% of the companies in this segment.

Philip Norman, founder of Ross Robotics and developer of a unique modular robot
Philip Norman, founder of Ross Robotics and developer of a unique modular robot

One start-up, UK-based Ross Robotics, is not only participating in this trend, it’s aiming to revolutionize the way specialized service robots are developed.  Founder Philip Norman has developed what he calls the world’s first and only modular robotic system – a platform that enables companies to configure application specific robots faster and more efficiently than traditional approaches.  Robots can be quickly assembled from standard components and easily repurposed.

Ross Robotics’ platform is ground-breaking and includes numerous patented design elements. One is a coaxial physical/power/data connector – just plug and twist to connect both power and the data stream.  Another involves bio-mimetic traction devices that enable the robots to scramble through dense brambles, up and down stairs and even swim. Philip sees potential for their application in relief work, in the oil and gas industry or in security, among other sectors.

 A Robot at CERN

One of Philip’s robots, heavily modified – as the robots are designed to be – is operating at the largest particle physics laboratory in the world for the European Organization for Nuclear Research, known as CERN. Philip explains: “The Large Hadron Collider totals about 50km of tunnel built in the sedimentary rock floor of the valley just outside Geneva and there is a very large amount of sophisticated equipment down there that needs to be monitored and maintained by robots rather than people.”

“Some parts of the Collider, especially when it is operating, are no-go zones for living creatures, either because of the background nuclear radiation or because of the magnetic fields which are, as far as I am aware, the strongest on the planet. Our robot system is largely non-metallic and non-magnetic as it is built using a hybrid plastic, non-magnetic metallization process and can operate in extremely harsh conditions such as those found in the Collider.”

He adds: “CERN have performed some specialized engineering work on our system to further harden it for their environment (certain components and types of circuitry do not tolerate their environment and CERN has a very good understanding of what is required). One of our robots has performed remote monitoring in the CMS experiment – this is the experiment that captured the Higgs Boson – equipped with cameras, LiDAR scanners and a number of other specialized sensors. The robot is now autonomous and can therefore operate without requiring a human controller.”

 An Entrepreneur’s Journey

Philip Norman has worked as a builder, caricaturist, ceramicist, children’s book illustrator and now inventor and chief executive officer rolled into one. In the early days of his business he designed with pen and paper, but is now a daily user of Siemens Solid Edge software. It was an aeronautics engineer who introduced him to the computer-aided design (CAD) tool, which he uses to create his innovative and complex designs.

Philip uses Solid Edge to speed the design of modular robots used in hazardous environments
Philip uses Solid Edge to speed the design of his modular robots

Philip understands the critical role that affordable engineering software has played in the success of his venture – helping him design products as well as communicate complex  ideas to customers. He explains: “We use Solid Edge as a rapid development tool to design the visuals and produce the real devices we deliver to customers.” He also recognizes the unique advantages provided by Solid Edge’s Synchronous Technology, which he describes as “a curious combination of extreme accuracy and extreme fluidity.”

Philip Norman will be the keynote speaker at Solid Edge University 2015 in Cincinnati next week.  In his presentation, “Traversing New Terrain: Extending the boundaries of advanced robotics,” he’ll tell the story of his journey as an entrepreneur and share his unique insights on art, design, and problem solving.  This keynote will kick off an event jam-packed with dozens of informative sessions, including hands-on workshops, customer case studies, and industry leading training on cutting-edge technologies.

It’s not too late to register for Solid Edge University 2015.  We’re looking forward to seeing you there!

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at