The robots that will follow
By Mike Hayes22 March 2021
Piaggio Fast Forward teams with Trimble to develop tech to help robots follow the leader
‘Smart following’ technology firm Piaggio Fast Forward (PFF) has, along with positioning specialist Trimble, announced the development of technology that allow robots to follow humans or other machines.
The two companies have developed a prototype device, which sits on the Spot robotic platform developed by Boston Dynamics.
The technology opens up a third mode of navigating sites for Spot, with following added to its remote control and autonomous operations.
Furthermore, once a specific path has been demonstrated to the device, it can repeat that path fully autonomously, avoiding obstacles and responding to changes in the environment.
PFF engineers originally developed the following technology for the company’s own gita robot, subsequently adapting it to create a stand-alone module called PFFtag, which could be integrated into other machines or robots.
The technology also allows for platooning, with a number of autonomous machines following a leader.
Trimble equipped a Spot robot with its laser scanning or Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) sensors, plus the new PFFtag device, as part of the proof-of-concept for the technology. The company tested it over the course of two months, at one of its customer’s sites in Colorado, US.
PFFtag enables the software of external partners to communicate with PFF’s own software, allowing a human to control the robot via pairing. Trimble says this and the device’s fused sensor array improves the robot’s ability to sense direction and velocity as it follows the leader.
Michele Colaninno, founder and chairman of Piaggio Fast Forward, said, “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.”
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