Technology

Spot the robot dog can now follow humans

18 March 2021

Don’t like the idea of being followed by a robot? Then look away now because new technology means robots, rather than being programmed or remotely directed, can be ‘paired’ with a human and then follow them.

A new proof-of-concept collaboration between Trimble and dynamic following technology specialist Piaggio Fast Forward (PFF) features Boston Dynamics’ Spot the robot dog following a construction worker round a site with two further robots in a platoon behind.

In this instance, Spot was fitted with PFF’s PFFtag smart following module prototype, complete with Trimble’s positioning technology: this eliminates the need to solely control the robot via joystick.

After the human pushes a button that activates a fused sensor array, Spot is paired with its human leader. The robot’s ability to sense direction and velocity is improved as it follows the leader. No special training nor other hardware or software is required. According to PFF: “This can create a wider range of applications for existing machines and positively impact productivity, safety and quality of work.”

Greg Lynn, CEO of PFF, said: “Most robotics companies look at the world as a world of obstacles. We adopted the opposite approach and this philosophy has fuelled our research of how humans and robots physically move through space. We design behaviours that understand people and help automate tasks so you don't have to build complicated hardware.

“Working with Trimble to boost the process of replacing remote-controlled robots traveling on predetermined paths in mapped environments has enabled yet another step in the ultimate goal of providing safe and intuitive operations of machines in industrial environments.

“Dynamic following technology is one step closer to kicking the doors open to further implementation - from power tools to farming equipment to even automated vehicles.”

Aviad Almagor, division vice president at Trimble Emerging Technologies, added: “The follow-me technology by PFF provides an intuitive user experience and opens the door to collaborative robots that can augment the human workforce. Like, a 21st century Sancho Panza, 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.”

Watch Spot follow its leader: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jZVTdLg2w48