- Software firms Trimble and Piaggio Fast Forward — a subsidiary of Italian vehicle manufacturer Piaggio Group — have announced a concept for a new tech solution enabling robots to follow humans and other machines in construction and industrial applications.
- The team has developed a patent-pending prototype module, showcased on Boston Dynamics' Spot the robot dog, that enables the robot to follow a human autonomously through a construction jobsite.
- Once the robot has "walked" the route, it can repeat routes and adapt to changes in the environment without being guided by a human using a joystick. Multiple robots can also follow one human at a time.
Many types of robots are controlled via joystick in person or from a remote location, but the new concept gives a robot more autonomy. Engineers from PFF developed the smart following technology for its "gita" robot — a trailing robot designed to carry up to 40 pounds of cargo or luggage — and adapted the software to work in a stand-alone module called PFFtag, which can be integrated onto other machines or robots.
With the module attached, pressing a button activates a sensor array that pairs to a leader who then leads Spot or another robot through a construction jobsite. Trimble and PFF conducted testing using a Spot robot equipped with Trimble laser scanning and PFFtag technology at one of its customer's sites in Colorado over the course of two months.
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. In November 2019, Hensel Phelps piloted Spot on the San Francisco International Airport's Harvey Milk Terminal 1 project. Construction software company Holobuilder developed the SpotWalk app, which sends Spot along predetermined routes to perform image capturing as a means of recording jobsite progress.
Then, in May 2020, Hensel Phelps used Spot in a real world application on the Denver International Airport's expansion project. Unlike on the San Francisco project, in Denver 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's use and similar robots like it will most likely benefit hospital, university and airport projects, due to their large amount of mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems in wide-open areas.