Following Tech Developed for Robot Dog
Smart following technology and subsidiary of the Piaggio Group, Piaggio Fast Forward and software firm Trimble have recently announced a proof-of-concept collaboration that enables robots and machines to follow humans and other machines in industrial applications.
“Most robotics companies look at the world as a world of obstacles,” said Greg Lynn, PFF's Chief Executive Officer. “At PFF, we adopted the opposite approach and this philosophy has fueled our research of how humans and robots physically move through space.
“We design behaviors that understand people and help automate tasks so you don't have to build complicated hardware. Working with Trimble to boost the process of replacing remote-controlled robots traveling on predetermined paths in mapped environments enable yet another step in the ultimate goal of providing safe and intuitive operations of machines in industrial environments.”
“Come Here, Spot!”
To showcase the patent-pending prototype module, PFFtag, the team incorporated the technology on Boston Dynamics' Spot the robot dog, which was then controlled by Trimble's advanced positioning technology.
Spot was first showcased last year at the HITT’s Co|Lab in Falls Church, Virginia. Using 3D measuring and imaging technology from Faro Technologies (Lake Mary, Florida), Spot was instructed to walk up and down stairs and through rough terrain while autonomously capturing images for HITT’s team and end users.
At the time, Michael Perry, Vice President of Business Development for Boston Dynamics reported that the company was still focusing on Spot’s data capture, sensors and mobility, as the technology was still considered to be in the beta stages of testing.
This time around, however, instead of controlling Spot via joysticks operated in person or by telepresence from a remote location, operators leveraged PFF's exclusive smart following technology, that allows humans to lead other robots and machines, providing a larger range of navigation methods—remote control, autonomous and now, following—in dynamic environments.
“This proof-of-concept is one of the many robots and autonomous vehicles Trimble provides solutions for and could apply to many industries Trimble serves, including construction, mining, agriculture and logistics,” the companies wrote.
According to PFF and Trimble, the technology works by enabling external partners to leverage its exclusive algorithms and in order to allow their software to communicate with PFF's software. It is through this process that a human can then control the robot via pairing and improves the robot's ability to sense direction and velocity as it follows the leader.
The companies add that there is no special training required to operate the robot using this technology—no app or tablet—and requires just the push of a button to activate the fused sensor array that pairs to a leader who navigates Spot or another robot or machine in dynamic environments.
The PFFtag can reportedly be integrated on other machines or robots.
“Through its collaboration with Trimble, Piaggio Fast Forward once again demonstrates its pioneering vocation and ceaseless research into new forms of interaction between human beings and robots, where people and their mobility needs are the foundation for our mission,” said Michele Colaninno, founder and chairman of Piaggio Fast Forward.
“Robots are a growing presence in our lives, both private and professional, helping to make human activities less burdensome and more efficient. When technology and robotics are put at people's service, I believe they can play a significant role in transforming individual mobility and re-defining workplaces and urban environments to make them more sustainable and people-friendly, and so help create a better future.”
As part of the proof-of-concept,Trimble conducted testing using a Spot robot equipped with Trimble laser scanning or Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) sensors and PFFtag technology at one of its customer's sites in Colorado over the course of two months.
“The follow-me technology by PFF provides an intuitive user experience and opens the door to collaborative robots that can augment the human workforce,” said Aviad Almagor, division vice president, Trimble's Emerging Technologies. “Like, a 21st century Sancho Panza, robots with PFFtag, may have the future ability to assist construction professionals in their daily workflow, carry heavy equipment, improve efficiency and enhance workers safety.”
Spot in Construction
Prior to the showcase at Co|Lab, Spot was used by Hensel Phelps on a $1.2 billion San Francisco International Airport terminal project in 2019. Onsite, Hensel tested HoloBuilder Inc.’s SpotWalk app, which enables Spot to take 360-degree photos and videos once a path where it can walk is determined.
The following year, Hensel Phelps used Spot again for a real-world application on the Denver International Airport's expansion project. For this, Hensel Phelps used Trimble laser scanners to communicate directly with the Boston Dynamics' platform, which stopped the robot to perform the scans, as well as to constantly pair the images together to create one file.
Spot has been marketed to construction and tested as a payload for laser scanning technology for more than a year—and has since become commercially available.
Officials in the industry believe that Spot and other like-robots will be most beneficial to hospitals, universities and airport projects, due to their large amount of mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems in wide-open areas.