Technology developers step up industrial setting-programmed robotics

Piaggio Fast Forward (PFF), a leader in smart following technology and subsidiary of the Piaggio Group, and Trimble have unveiled a proof-of-concept collaboration to enable robots and machines to follow humans and other machines in industrial applications. It integrates a PFFtag smart following module prototype and Boston Dynamics Spot robot platform controlled by Trimble advanced positioning technology, superseding a joystick.

The proof-of-concept development saw testing of a Spot robot equipped with Trimble laser scanning or Global Navigation Satellite System sensors and Piaggo Fast Forward tag technology at a Colorado customer site.

The proof-of-concept is one of the many robots and autonomous vehicles Trimble provides solutions for and could apply to many industries the company serves, including construction and mining. Through extensive research and observations of how people navigate the physical world, on the other hand, PFF continues to create innovative mobile technology solutions dedicated to improving human efficiency through intuitive collaboration with machines.

“Most robotics companies look at the world as one of obstacles,” says PFF CEO Greg Lynn. “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. Dynamic following technology is one step closer to kicking the doors open to further implementation—from power tools to automated vehicles.”

While 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 exclusive smart following technology. It allows humans to lead other robots and machines, providing a larger range of navigation methods—remote control, autonomous, and now, following—in dynamic environments. PFF engineers have been able to componentize the smart following technology developed for PFF’s gita robot into a stand-alone module called PFFtag, which can be integrated on other machines or robots.

PFFtag allows external partners to leverage its exclusive algorithms and allow their software to communicate with PFF programs. They enable a human to control the robot via pairing and improve the robot’s ability to sense direction and velocity as it follows the leader. A simple 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; operation proceeds without special training, joystick, app or tablet. Ultimately, this can create a wider range of applications for existing machines and positively impact productivity, safety and quality of work.

“Robots are a growing presence in our lives, both private and professional, helping to make human activities less burdensome and more efficient,” notes PFF Chairman Michele Colaninno. “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.”

“The follow-me technology by PFF provides an intuitive user experience and opens the door to collaborative robots that can augment the human workforce,” adds Trimble Emerging Technologies Vice President Aviad Almagor. “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.”