Trimble Collaborates with Piaggio Fast Forward to Enable Robots and Machines to Follow Humans

Robots and machines may soon be able to follow humans and other machines in industrial applications, thanks to a collaboration between the two companies.

Robots and machines may soon be able to follow humans and other machines in industrial applications, thanks to a collaboration between two leading technology providers. Piaggio Fast Forward (PFF), a provider of smart following technology and subsidiary of the Piaggio Group (PIA.MI), and Trimble have announced a proof-of-concept that integrates a patent-pending PFFtag smart following module prototype onto Boston Dynamics’ Spot robot platform controlled by Trimble’s advanced positioning technology. The combination eliminates the need to solely control the robot via joystick.

Over the course of two months, Trimble conducted testing using a Spot robot equipped with Trimble laser scanning or GNSS sensors and PFFtag technology at a customer site in Colorado. The proof-of-concept is one of a number of robots and autonomous vehicles for which Trimble provides solutions and could apply to many of the industries it serves, including construction, mining, agriculture and logistics.

“The follow-me technology by PFF provides an intuitive user experience and opens the door to collaborative robots that can augment the human workforce,” said Aviad Almagor, division vice president, Trimble’s Emerging Technologies. “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.”

Pf Ftagx TrimbleTrimbleWhile 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 smart following technology, which allows humans to lead other robots and machines. This provides 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 the company’s gita robot into a stand-alone module (PFFtag) that can be integrated on other machines or robots.

PFFtag enables external partners to leverage its exclusive algorithms and allow their software to communicate with PFF’s software. This means a human can control the robot via pairing and improves 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. There is no special training to operate or joystick, no app or tablet. Ultimately, this can create a wider range of applications for existing machines and positively impact productivity, safety and quality of work.

Pf Ftagx Trimble PlatooningTrimble“Robots are a growing presence in our lives, both private and professional, helping to make human activities less burdensome and more efficient,” said Michele Colaninno, founder and chairman of Piaggio Fast Forward. “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.”

Information provided by Trimble and edited by Becky Schultz.