Rise of the machines
Problems of sensing, artificial intelligence, processing, computing, and mobility once prevented the use of autonomous robots in real-world environments—but those days are numbered. Today’s most advanced robots are capable of moving through dynamic spaces with less support infrastructure and human interaction than even a year ago.
Here’s a good example: Piaggio Fast Forward (best known for Gita, a personal robot that follows you around and carries up to 40 lbs of your stuff) has recently announced a partnership with Trimble and Boston Dynamics. They’re developing robots that follow construction workers around on the job site.
This adds a new method for humans to direct and train robots to traverse dynamic environments. It’s also highlighting a whole new set of problems.
How many robots is too many?
As VentureBeat reports, Piaggio Fast Forward is piloting their robotic solution in a live construction environment. As part of this pilot, they are testing the use of robots in groups—one Boston Dynamics Spot and two Gita Robots, for instance—a technique that Piaggio Fast Forward calls “platooning.”
Piaggio is paying special attention to how human workers are assessing human attitudes about a “platoon” of robots showing up in the work environment. They’re also asking how many robots is too many to be helpful.
Optimizing the number of robots following people on a construction site concerns not only whether the robot can make it safely out of the path of a dozer driven by a human, but also the question of how many robots can be involved before things get weird. Like, if you’re a construction worker watching the site manager approach with a robot entourage, is five robots the limit? Six? Piaggio Fast Forward CEO Greg Lynn told VentureBeat the company could support a convoy of 50 to 100 robots but that this would be impractical.Khari Johnson, “How many robot helpers are too many?“
The state of robotics
The VentureBeat article acts as a great overview of the state of autonomous robotics technology today. They cover important recent developments, where the technology is likely going next, which companies are getting involved, and even how learning to navigate construction sites will make robots more viable in other industries like farming, delivery, and medical devices.