During the summer we launched our BuildingPoint UK and Ireland ‘The Future Of….’ Series looking at key trends in digital construction and we decided there was nowhere better to kick off than with Augmented and Mixed Reality – technology that’s truly transforming the way we work!
The second trend that we’ve decided to take a look at is Construction Robots and the nature of ‘true autonomy’.
“An autonomous robot is a robot that acts without recourse to human control” is the official definition. Short and to the point, it’s an easy one to understand.
However, since the introduction of Trimble’s Spot the Dog we’ve realised that our customers and colleagues have plenty more to say on the subject! Spot is a four-legged robot developed by American robotics company Boston Dynamics that’s armed with Trimble’s X7 3D laser scanner and Trimble FieldLink software to collect data while navigating challenging, dynamic and potentially unsafe environments… and it’s certainly had lots of media interest.
Opinions that matter!
We’ve rounded up some very different viewpoints on autonomous robots, and in particular Spot with his X7 payload. Some are based on health and safety, some based on commercial benefit, some based on future aims and some based on actual practical use of Spot on site but we think they’re a useful indication of how well people understand what the Spot solution can offer.
“We have a skills shortage within the construction industry. Spot can and must be able to carry out routine, repetitive tasks autonomously or what’s the point?”
“Autonomy in this case equals the ability to carry out commercially useful tasks.”
“Autonomous technology is about enriching automated systems with sensors. This system ticks that box.”
“A robot like Spot is only autonomous if it can take itself for a walk and carry out its scanning tasks unaided. It is not an autonomous solution if the dog can navigate remotely but the scanner needs human intervention to stop and start it. Spot with the X7 is autonomous”
“A robot like Spot is only autonomous if it can take itself for a walk and carry out its scanning tasks unaided. It is not an autonomous solution if the dog can navigate remotely but the scanner needs human intervention.
So, it’s clear we all have different thoughts on the solution – some positive, some sceptical. As we’ve pointed out earlier, a robot is NOT autonomous unless it acts without recourse to human control.
Autonomy? We knew who to ask!
Further expanding the unique partnership that Trimble (directed by Construction Robotics Lead, David Burczyk) has with Boston Dynamics (headed up by Product Manager for Construction, Brian Ringley), FieldLink v6.3 released a whole host of new features, one of which means that our system now meets the true definition of an ‘Autonomous Robot’.
FieldLink v6.3 – The top three features we rate
1. Unsupervised Autonomy
From the screenshot you can see the live feed from SPOT’s camera running within Trimble FieldLink on the tablet. You’ll see there’s a button on the top bar that says “Autonomous”.
This allows the user to start a mission, whilst they are ‘untethered’. This means we could programme SPOT to wake up at 10pm at night, complete the scans, and then go sit back down on the dock, charge and transfer the data for the team in the morning; there’s no need to be connected to WiFi or the tablet, or even walk around ‘chaperoning’ the robot.
2. Remote Operation
Trimble are currently working with BAM Nuttall on a ‘Remote Operator Application’, called ‘SPOT Access’. This enables the team to wake SPOT up, conduct missions as well as see live feeds from the camera through a private 5G Network, read more on their story here.
3. Use Shortcuts & Observer Mode
Spot will now calculate the shortest path available to complete data capture, with no need for human control. With observer mode, the user can view the status of a mission, as well as take control if required for safety reasons.
So, what do you think the future of a construction site looks like? Have Trimble and Boston Dynamics cracked one of the main comments raised by people above by providing #trueautonomy?
What do you think is next? Trimble won’t be letting sleeping dogs lie!