How do you stop weeds from overtaking that multi-million dollar solar facility? Thanks to a confluence of sensor developments and automation technologies, the answer is to call in the robots.The problem is a big one, the kind of logistical strain that lives in the seams of enterprises and doesn’t get much attention. Renewable energy utilities like solar and wind farms cover massive footprints and often exist in wild places where weeds and other vegetation grows naturally. Unchecked, that vegetation can cause massive infrastructure problems. But hiring people to take care of the weeds is both expensive and potentially perilous.A company called Renu Robotics has developed a unique robotic mower for utility grounds management. The company has just announced a multi-year agreement with lidar developer Velodyne Lidar, Inc., which makes a small sensor, called the Puck, that can be used for autonomous navigation systems.”Velodyne’s Puck sensors provide an essential ingredient for our robotic autonomy and navigation,” said Michael Blanton, Renu’s Chief Technical Officer. “The power-efficient sensors enable the Renubot to deliver an automated vegetation management system that is repetitive and reliable to keep facilities operating at peak performance, while controlling costs.”This is a good illustration of the confluence happening between sensor development, autonomous systems, and renewable energy utilities, which, as I’ve covered, seem especially keen to adopt automation technologies for infrastructure inspection and maintenance tasks.”With its sophisticated, sustainable-to-operate autonomous mower, Renu Robotics is revolutionizing the way solar and energy companies conduct vegetation management,” said Laura Wrisley, VP of North America Sales, Velodyne Lidar. “The innovative Renubot demonstrates how Puck sensors power precision and safety in autonomous vehicles, operating without human intervention. Renu Robotics is a prime example of Velodyne delivering on its mission to improve safety and sustainability in communities worldwide.”The company’s robot, called the Renubot, utilizes Puck sensors for safe, efficient high-precision navigation and to avoid obstacles when conducting utility-scale vegetation management. The mower uses the lidar to navigate the site, along with real-time kinematic (RTK) GPS correction which enables vehicle positional accuracy within 2 cm. Renubot is a good example of small-form-factor autonomous robots of a kind we’re seeing more of. It leverages artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning for autonomous command and control, and to learn and assess the topography as it conducts highly precise mowing and grooming of facility grounds. More
A leading autonomous pizza machine developer is teaming up with an international pizza brand run by world-renowned chef Anthony Carron. 800 Degrees Pizza will be offering consumers a fully automated experience and an authentic, custom pizza recipe designed for robotic cooking technology that’s eager to move on the market in the near future.The pandemic has been a boon for autonomous dining as takeout culture and convenience remain priorities. Restaurants have struggled to adapt to the labor demands and unpredictability of the new paradigm. Delivery options open up new opportunities to meet customers where they are, but maintaining quality is paramount. At 800 Degrees the team believed they needed to do more to future-proof the brand, and Chef Carron saw the promise of automation when a trusted industry colleague, Massimo Noja De Marco, reached out to discuss Piestro, his automated pizza venture.
“When Massimo and I first connected about Piestro’s technology, I saw both the immediate and long-term impact automation could have on our business,” said Carron. “Knowing Massimo’s exceptional background and the emphasis he places on quality and consistency in his machines, I knew this was a partnership we needed to make happen. We immediately began the process of developing recipes using the same imported, fresh and flavorful ingredients that made 800 Degrees Pizza so successful, and we were off to the races.”Piestro is definitely putting technology first. It recently partnered with PopID, which develops facial recognition payment technology. As I wrote last year when Piestro launched its robotically prepared pizza concept, vending machine pizza isn’t such a far fetched concept in the age of fresh-tossed salad from a robot named Sally and a really good pull of espresso from one of Cafe X’s robotic baristas. Automation in food preparation was gaining steam even before COVID-19, although there were some telltale disappointments. Zume, an automated end-to-end pizza restaurant and delivery service that primarily used robots instead of humans, once had a $4 billion valuation but shut down its robot-powered pizza business, laid off more than half its staff, and is shifting focus to autonomous packaging. However, Zume’s model was built on delivery, a tricky logistical stack of cards. Automated vending machines, however, are a model that’s been around for more than half-a-century, and tapping into existing brands and infrastructure, which is what the Piestro and 800 Degrees partnership are all about, is a savvy growth strategy (and much easier than creating a pizza brand from scratch).”This partnership is a clear indicator of the interest and potential for automation within the pizza industry,” said De Marco, CEO of Piestro. “I’ve known Chef Carron for years, and he exemplifies the spirit of operators dedicated to their craft, committed to delivering customers an unforgettable dining experience. The contactless cooking capabilities, fresh taste, speed and consistency that our automation and breakthrough oven technology bring are perfectly aligned with the values of 800 Degrees Pizza to provide customers with an exceptional culinary experience. We can’t wait to give customers everywhere access to an international pizza brand with a robotic twist.” More
Urban air mobility developers tend to wince at the term “flying car,” but it’s going to be a tough moniker to escape in the next few years. That’s because air taxis (slightly more palatable for the air mobility set) are taking off in a real way.That point is underlined in an ambitious new agreement between Archer, a leading urban air mobility company based in California, and the operator of thousands of parking garages in an expansive network that covers more than 70% of the U.S. Archer and REEF will work together to retrofit the top floor of parking garages in dense urban areas in order to accommodate Archer’s all-electric vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) vehicle.”Archer is focused on developing urban aerial ridesharing networks that will ease the issues caused by excessive city congestion,” said Adam Goldstein, co-Founder and co-CEO of Archer. “We believe that working with REEF will allow us to accelerate our mission to transition congested urban areas to more sustainable forms of transportation. The ability to build out our early vertiports with light retrofitting of existing structures would allow us to scale operations while maintaining our focus on affordability for our customers. We’re thrilled to announce this strategic relationship as we continue to execute on our roadmap towards bringing urban air mobility to reality.”This is a smart partnership for Archer, which recognizes the value of a good logistics network. To draw a relevant comparison, much of Tesla’s brand loyalty stems from its massive network of charging stations, which are known among electric car drivers to be faster and online more of the time than many third-party providers. In order to convert transportation users to a new paradigm, convenience and multi-point support are paramount, something Tesla has taken seriously. Archer, by utilizing an existing transportation logistics network, is positioning itself to be a big player in areas like Los Angeles and Miami, two of its early markets.REEF, for its part, is also thinking outside the box. Its sites have been largely underutilized of late, a combination of pandemic-related behavior shifts and the rise of ride sharing and growing investment in public transport in many cities, including Los Angeles. By converting some of its existing inventory for VTOL, which sounds like a fairly straightforward process, it could be opening up a new revenue stream while easing its utilization woes in years to come.”One of REEF’s core areas of focus is to reduce traffic congestion and carbon emissions by supporting incredible transportation technologies like those Archer is building,” said George Fallica, REEF’s Chief Revenue Officer. “Archer’s focus on sustainability and transforming the everyday urban travel experience aligns closely with our own mission. We’re excited to be working with them on plans to reshape city landscapes and make existing infrastructure even more functional.”Of course, Archer, which has been developing high-value partnerships with major brands like United Airlines, isn’t taking chances on where it will place the takeoff and landing pads, which it calls vertiports. The company has developed a proprietary data science technology, which it calls Prime Radiant, to source optimal locations for VTOL pads to relieve congestion in high-traffic areas. More
Leica Geosystems has two new autonomous hardware products that are pushing robots to bold new places. Announced recently is a flying UAV laser scanning sensor and a reality capture product for robots, including SPOT from Boston Dynamics.The flying sensor is called BLK2FLY, and Leica Geosystems, which is a brand of global information systems company Hexagon AB, calls it the world’s first autonomous UAV laser scanning sensor. The user sets up a flight path, taps a tablet, and it flies off to accurately scan and capture the dimensions of an area or building. It’s best for inaccessible or hard to reach areas, such as facades or rooftops, or to document site conditions after a disaster. High fidelity reality capture is critical for a number of industries, including pipeline and infrastructure inspection and construction. Drones and robots are already proving critical tools for inspection. The big difference is that UAVs take a top-down approach to scanning, whereas the scanning laser is designed to capture details with millimeter level accuracy from multiple angles, resulting in a high-fidelity representation. Weighing under 6 pounds, the UAV knows how to avoid obstacles and automatically redirects its flight path.The second product is called BLK ARC, and it’s essentially an add-on laser sensor for robotic platforms. According to a spokesperson: “picture Boston Dynamics’ SPOT dog with an autonomous reality capture product for a head.”Pairing the sensor with an autonomous platform like SPOT, a user is able to get visibility into dangerous or hard to reach places like waterfalls, coal mines, power plants, bridges, movie location sets, or crime scenes. Once the robot is in, the sensing system delivers accurate scans of the area. Built as a platform agnostic sensor, the BLK ARC will work with other robotics carriers as well.”The BLK2FLY and BLK ARC illustrate Hexagon’s commitment to empowering an autonomous future with smart digital realities. The purposefully integrated sensor-software systems are tailored to bring autonomous agility and speed to any reality capture workflow,” says Hexagon President and CEO Ola Rollén. “The robots, sensors, and software work together, dynamically adjusting reality capture missions to offer seemingly limitless business applications – from as-built site documentation for buildings to monitoring and situational awareness of remote or hazardous environments, such as mines, factory floors, off-shore facilities, fire investigations and more.”The increasing fidelity and shrinking form factor of sensors are helping drive a robotic revolution in a number of industries, particularly those with dangerous working conditions, such as mining and sectors that rely on remote infrastructure. Robotics and UAV providers are rushing to capitalize on increasing demand for critical inspection tools, particularly as infrastructure comes into the spotlight thanks to new federal attention.
By some estimates, the inspection robotics market is set to grow by $3.72 billion from 2020-2024, a CAGR of almost 19%. More
One of the big concerns about drone delivery concerns the spinning rotors, which are a huge potential liability to people, pets, and property if things go awry. But what if delivery drones didn’t have to land?That’s the concept behind A2Z Drone Delivery, LLC’s tethered freefall drone delivery mechanism, which is the backbone of its new drone, called the RDSX commercial delivery UAV. We’ve written about A2Z before and found the system novel. with the rollout of its commercial drone, the company is now formally entering the logistics sector, providing an interesting case study for the near future of drone delivery.”Residential drone delivery pilot programs are coming online throughout the United States right now, and much of the industry is anxiously awaiting the large-scale regulatory approval that will see residential deployments rapidly expand,” said Aaron Zhang, founder of A2Z Drone Delivery, LLC. “While the raw technical capabilities for these deliveries already exist, a key benchmark for regulatory approvals will be addressing the consumer comfort with UAVs being rolled out into daily life. Our tethered freefall delivery capability integrated with the RDSX offers a way to mitigate some of those consumer concerns.”
Basically, A2Z designed a delivery drone by focusing on safety. Safety systems include an onboard parachute, Emergency payload abandonment, passive payload lock to safeguard against payload loss or tether slippage in case of unforeseen power fluctuations, pre-flight weight check, payload status detection, and rapid descent calculation.The RDSX integrates A2Z Drone Delivery’s tethered freefall Rapid Delivery System, which the company says is capable of quickly and safely delivering payloads from altitudes as high as 150ft. By keeping spinning rotors far from people and property, the idea is that the RDSX can help mitigate consumer concerns with drone deliveries. Beyond the safety considerations, these also include noise. A drone on your doorstep is pretty loud, but keeping delivery UAV high overhead will mitigate (if not eliminate) noise pollution.”Working hand-in-hand with a logistics provider gave our engineers invaluable insights into how our customers will interact with the drone platform and allowed us to design the RDSX from the bottom up for the unique demands of commercial UAV deliveries,” said Zhang. “Based on an extremely robust flight platform with hundreds of thousands of flight hours, the RDSX integrates our tethered freefall delivery mechanism to minimize time-on-station, reduce downtime and prioritize safety for the airframe, its payloads and the customers receiving packages.” As drone delivery clears regulatory hurdles in the U.S. and abroad, we’re going to begin seeing more novel platforms coming online. Given the red hot logistics industry, it’s going to be interesting to see how readily providers drone delivery. Logistics over the past decade has been dominated by Amazon, with others essentially following suit. Drone delivery, however, may present an interesting new opportunity for logistics providers to connect with and give an edge to smaller retailers and regional businesses that might benefit from a local drone delivery capability. Companies like RDSX are helping the next few shape up to be very interesting in the logistics sector. More
An autonomous laser-powered weeder is attracting big green from investors. Carbon Robotics recently announced it secured $27 million in Series B financing to help in its quest to eliminate weeds without herbicides.Weeds are a blight to gardens but an even bigger scourge for commercial food production. It’s estimated that weeds cause a 10% loss in crop yields overall, amounting to 200 million tons per year. And, if left uncontrolled, weeds can result in 100% crop loss. Robots can help.”This investment further validates our mission to create tools that utilize technology to address farmers’ toughest problems,” says Paul Mikesell, CEO and founder of Carbon Robotics. “Weeding is one of the biggest challenges farmers face, especially with the rise of herbicide-resistant weeds and increasing interest in organic and regenerative methods. This investment round will enable us to scale our operations to meet the increasing demand for this technology. Additionally, this funding will allow our team to continue to innovate new products and identify revolutionary ways to apply technology to agriculture.”
The funding will accelerate Carbon Robotics’ growth, including scaling the production of the Autonomous Weeder, the only laser-powered weed elimination robot commercially available. The Autonomous Weeder utilizes high-powered lasers and computer vision to eliminate 100 000 weeds per hour without disrupting the soil, reducing the need for traditional weeding methods such as chemicals, tiling, or manual labor. The company has already sold out of its 2021 models and 2022 models, and the new round brings the company’s total funding to $36 million.”The already demanding task of weeding has only gotten harder for farmers to manage as more herbicide-resistant weeds develop and the cost of herbicides increases,” said Cameron Borumand, general partner at FUSE, a venture firm. “Carbon Robotics has built a game-changing solution to solve one of the biggest problems in agriculture. Farmers have been innovative and resourceful in addressing this problem so far. Still, they deserve the best technology to help them execute one of the most important jobs in the world — putting food on people’s tables.” As opposed to blunt methods like herbicides, which lead to resistant strains and can impact the food supply, Carbon is focusing on precision. By leveraging artificial intelligence and laser technology, the company’s technology consists of a largely autonomous mobile robot powered by diesel-hydraulics. In other words, this is not a garden toy. The system utilizes lidar for safety scanning to protect workers and systems in the field.
The system stays within a geofence, but it spots the furrows within the field and drives between them. The actual weed zapping is done by way of an array of 150 watt high powered CO2 lasers. Each laser utilizes cameras and other optic sensors for targeting control. The system relies on deep learning computer vision algorithms to identify weeds from crops, a massively challenging undertaking that Carbon seems to have cracked.”Carbon Robotics is uniquely positioned to address critical issues affecting farmers, including the rise of superweeds and the decrease of available labor,” said Erik Benson, managing director of Voyager Capital, which participated in the round.There are currently 263 herbicide-resistant species across 71 countries. The need for a better weed solution has led to big demand, and Carbon has secured a number of contracts from major growers, which has helped prove the business case for investors. More
Robotic lawnmowers are still a novelty in the U.S., where lawns are big and landscaping labor tends to be affordable in many parts of the country, but they’re far more commonplace in Europe’s modest lawns. Their popularity in the U.S. may be set to balloon.”We are seeing a rapid rise in robotic mowers because technology has advanced enough that we can finally do it cost-effectively,” says Tim Kubista, VP of sales and marketing for RC Mowers, an emergent player in the robotic lawn mowing arena. “In this world there is a growing interest in safety in all industries and mowing is no different. Injury prevention is a powerful motivator for companies to purchase robotic mowers. In addition, the labor market in the mowing industry is tight and the workers themselves are increasingly turning their back on tedious and unsafe jobs (e.g. string trimming on steep slopes). With robotic mowers, this kind of work is more efficient and requires less labor.”Global Industry Analysts, Inc. recently released a report and projections related to robotic lawnmowers and predicts the sector will be worth $1.4b by 2026. The U.S. market will account for $225.4 million of the sector in 2021, while China is forecast to reach a comparable milestone of $238.2 million by 2026. Currently, more than 340,000 commercial mowers are purchased in the United States each year.One of the reasons robotic mowers still seem niche is that their toehold thus far has been with commercial customers, the kind that can make an ROI case for a robotic lawnmower. RC Mowers, for example, was founded on the idea of mowing steep slopes safely. As a result, its remote-operated robotic mowers are designed with several integrated safety features useful for professional landscaping and are tested regularly. The mowers comply with, or exceed, ISO and ANSI standards. “We chose to focus on the commercial market because they buy mowers to make money and can quickly see the value of purchasing our super-efficient robotic mowers, which can run between $38,000 and $60,000,” says Kubista. “And when you include organizations such as public works and parks departments, who also use our products, there is a strong obligation to put their workers in safe conditions.”The labor factor is also a prevalent driver of development toward the commercial space. The fact is, there is a large underground labor economy for residential landscaping in many areas of the U.S. But commercial and public clients, such as municipal governments, must hire transparently, and here the labor equation gets a little murkier. Legal labor availability is often an issue in the mowing industry. Robots can help alleviate the challenge with increased efficiency and safety.Government entities, especially concerned about avoiding jobsite injuries, have been quick to embrace the technology. According to RC Mowers, many municipalities choose to purchase one or two mowers and share it among the various public works departments in their area.
That commercial and public usage is set to expand to the consumer market as the technology becomes more affordable, particularly as attitudes toward technology have shifted favorably during the pandemic. Where Roomba conquered the residential vacuuming space, new players in the global lawn mowing may soon follow. More
It seems counterintuitive, but robots may be a growing bright spot for American manufacturing. The latest example is an announcement by a leading autonomous delivery company that it will create two new facilities in southern Nevada as it moves to scale production of its latest autonomous delivery vehicle.Overall, the market for autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) and autonomous ground vehicles (AGVs) is forecasted to generate over $10bn by 2023 according to Interact Analysis, and that prediction relies on data from before the COVID-19 pandemic. Delivery robots in particualr are quickly coming of age as COVID lingers and touchless fulfillment becomes the norm. Sidestepping municipal red tape, enterprising companies like Starship Technologies have launched pilot programs in controlled access spaces, such as college campuses.Nuro, among the leading players in autonomous delivery vehicle development, has been focused on proofing its technology across the southwest and just announced a $40 million investment to develop its two newest facilities—an end-of-line manufacturing facility and world-class closed-course test track. The company has already partnered with some of the country’s biggest brands.”This is a significant moment for Nuro. Building on our tremendous momentum—including strategic partnerships with industry leaders such as Domino’s, Kroger, and FedEx and operations in three states—we are now able to invest in the infrastructure to build tens of thousands of robots,” said Jiajun Zhu, Nuro co-founder and CEO. “We greatly appreciate the state’s leadership in working with us to finalize this partnership. The decision to place these facilities in Southern Nevada was an easy one.”For generations automation and labor interests have had a shaky relationship. It’s an odd twist, then, that the American robotics sector may be giving rise to a new manufacturing opportunity, one that has every reason to stay onshore. Incentivized via its Made in China 2030 program, has seen tremendous growth in its robotics manufacturing sector, with a forecast growth of over 26% CAGR in the next couple years. But as American robotics developers look to make a case to local governments to let robots loose on city streets, where they will end up right at customer’s doorsteps, there’s every incentive to keep the technology, from development to manufacturing, onshore. Lingering supply chain issues have only emphasized this point.Nuro’s new production facility—the industry’s first end-of-line manufacturing facility in America with the capacity to manufacture tens of thousands of delivery vehicles––will enable the company to meet the demand for its third-generation autonomous vehicles with current and future partners. Totaling over 125,000 square feet of space and over 80 acres of property development, the new commercial facility will allow Nuro to quickly manufacture its electric delivery AVs in the coming years with help from BYD North America.”It’s one thing to introduce new jobs to the state—and it’s another thing to introduce high-quality careers to our community,” said Governor Steve Sisolak. “We’re pleased to welcome Nuro to Southern Nevada and are especially excited for the careers they’ll be offering that will have long-term benefits for our community.”
Nevada is a fitting home for the facility. The state enacted its first-in-the-nation autonomous vehicle legislation in 2011, becoming a leader in promoting the safe deployment of the technology.”Investing in the technological advancement of autonomous vehicles will allow us to better address the pressing issue of safety on Nevada’s roads,” said Senator Jacky Rosen. “I remain enthusiastic about these efforts in Nevada, which will provide benefits to our communities.” More
A new pilot just put a robot out front of a major construction challenge in Massachusetts: the building of a new headquarters for a major life sciences company. The robot’s assignment was to draw the all-important layout grid at the job site, a kind of paint-by-numbers life-sized blue print that’s an integral part of the building process.The robot, by Rugged Robotics, can autonomously mark fully coordinated designs directly on concrete floors. The process, called field layout, is ordinarily done by people in much the same way it has been for the last hundred years, using tape measures, chalk-lines, and surveying equipment to manually mark the location of walls and mechanical systems. In an industry marked by project overruns and blown budgets, this critical step is often a source of future downstream errors that cost time and money.The Rugged Robotics pilot was conducted via construction company Consigli, which is building the new headquarters for Sanofi, one of MA’s largest life science employers.
“At Consigli, our leadership and technology teams are always looking for ways to make construction projects more accurate and efficient, and maximize the allocation of resources on each site,” said Jack Moran, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP and Consigli’s director of VDC and Integrated Services. “We see technology as a way to support our workforce and to meet the construction demands of the future. Rugged Robotics proved its value with an automated tool that exceeded our expectations and worked in synergy with our team.”The construction industry is undergoing an automation makeover that, in the coming years, may transform a sector that’s been stuck in the slow lane. Technologists have keyed in on the fact that productivity in construction has actually fallen in half since the 1960s. The sector has not kept pace with innovation, and as I’ve written, the diesel-powered hydraulic machines you’ll find on most construction sites today remain essentially unchanged from those rolling around over the last several decades.As a result, there are massive inefficiencies in the industry. According to KPMG’s Global Construction Survey, just 25% of projects came within 10% of their original deadlines. When it comes to megaprojects, like large infrastructure projects, McKinsey found that 98% are delayed or over budget. 77% are more than 40% behind schedule.Robots, drones, and big data are considered a key technology categories to address these inefficiencies. With its new robot, Rugged Robotics has been very smart to key in on a specific but nonetheless ubiquitous niche within construction.
Following the pilot, Rugged and Consigli continue to collaborate as Rugged refines, deploys and scales its solution. Future Consigli projects utilizing the robots are already in the works. More