Two industry leaders have come together to advance the integration of robotics into aerial access equipment. JLG Industries, Inc., an Oshkosh Corporation company and a global manufacturer of mobile elevating work platforms (MEWPS) and telehandlers, and RE2 Robotics, a top developer of intelligent mobile manipulation systems, are combining forces to bring robotics to access equipment in an effort to enhance operator safety and productivity while working at heights.
“Robotic technologies have long been used in a variety of industries,” says Frank Nerenhausen, Oshkosh Corporation executive vice president and president, JLG Industries. “The productivity imperative, along with the COVID-19 pandemic have accelerated the need for and adoption of robotic technologies beyond the factory floor. In fact, a large focal area in construction and industrial applications today is remote operation of equipment that keeps workers out of harm’s way.”
Jorgen Pedersen, RE2’s president and CEO, agrees, adding, “The future of work is here. Humans and robots are working more closely together, and the construction industry is no exception. Our developmental partnership with JLG will enable us to apply our proven robotic technology to specific applications, including those that require working at height and repetitive lifting such as solar field construction.”
JLG has been leveraging and developing robotics in specific areas of its business for some time, says Nerenhausen. The collaboration with RE2 will enable JLG to accelerate its integration of robotics across its product lines and help to move the access industry forward. “Our focus has shifted to developing and incorporating solutions that integrate with our lifts to help offset labor shortages and provide assistive technologies to a now 5-generation workforce,” he states.
RE2 was recently awarded a project by the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office to develop a robotic solar field construction system for the Outdoor Autonomous Manipulation of Photovoltaic Panels. The system will incorporate the RE2 Sapien intelligent robotic arm, which offers a high strength-to-weight ratio, precise control and human-like dexterity to place the burden of the heavy lifting on the robotic system.
Development efforts are currently underway to integrate the RE2 Sapien, along with RE2 Detect and RE2 Intellect software, with a JLG aerial work platform that can support the transfer, manipulation and placement of photovoltaic modules during solar field construction. JLG is supplying engineering support during the technology development phase of the project, with joint work being completed on the mechanical and control system interface between the robotic arm and the lift.
According to the companies, the robotic solar field construction system will use computer vision to autonomously retrieve solar panels from a delivery vehicle and precisely place the panels onto a racking system. Skilled workers would supervise the system’s operation, and an on-site worker will follow the system to secure the panel. The system is expected to significantly improve productivity and reduce the amount of time required to construct a solar field.
According to Nerenhausen and Pedersen, a concept machine is forthcoming, with demonstrations planned to gather additional feedback in the near future in order to further drive development of this system, as well as other industry advancements.
“Developmental partnerships, acquisitions and organic product innovation serve as the three core pillars of our growth philosophy. When combined, they facilitate our ability to remain agile and accelerate the development of the future technologies that will advance the construction industry,” says Nerenhausen. “Our work with RE2 Robotics is an excellent example of how we are driving progress with companies who are experts and leaders in their respective fields.”
Information provided by JLG Industries and RE2 Robotics and edited by Becky Schultz.