Smart Following Robot Creates Wider Autonomous Applications in Construction, Ag, More


Piaggio smart following technology and Trimble GNSS aboard Boston Dynamics Spot robot. All images courtesy Piaggio.

Piaggio Fast Forward, a provider of smart following technology, and Trimble will collaborate to enable robots and machines to follow humans and other machines in industrial applications. PFF engineers have componentized smart following technology into a stand-alone module called PFFtag, which can be integrated on other machines or robots.

The companies have integrated a PFFtag prototype onto a Boston Dynamics’ Spot robot platform controlled by Trimble’s advanced positioning technology. This eliminates the need to solely control the robot via joystick. The concept could apply to industries such as construction, mining, agriculture and logistics.

Many robots, including Spot, are currently controlled by joysticks operated in person or by telepresence from a remote location. Operators can now leverage PFF’s smart following technology that allows humans to lead other robots and machines, expanding the range of navigation methods in dynamic environments. PFFtag enables external partners to leverage its exclusive algorithms and allow their software to communicate with PFF’s software. This enables a human to control the robot via pairing and improves the robot’s ability to sense direction and velocity as it follows the leader.

A push of a button activates a fused sensor array that pairs to a leader who navigates Spot or another robot or machine in dynamic environments such as construction and civil engineering spaces—there is no special training to operate or joystick, no app or tablet. Ultimately, this can create a wider range of applications for existing machines and positively impact productivity, safety and quality of work.

As part of the proof-of-concept, Trimble conducted testing using a Spot robot equipped with Trimble laser scanning or GNSS sensors and PFFtag technology at one of its customer’s sites in Colorado over the course of two months.

Smart following platooned robots.

The collaboration “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.”

Greg Lynn, PFF’s chief executive offcer states that replacing remote-controlled robots traveling on predetermined paths in mapped environments “enable[s] yet another step in the ultimate goal of providing safe and intuitive operations of machines in industrial environments . . . from power tools to farming equipment to even automated vehicles.”