In looking around the industrial landscape right now, cutting across specific sectors and spaces, automation is one of the major themes that you will find percolating within just about every company. Given hiring shortages and increasing pressure to streamline efficiency ahead of a potential recession, having automated processes will help companies achieve both of these goals. That said, automation is something of a broad term which can be applied to both hardware and software workflows, with some disagreement on how sophisticated a tool must be to achieve true automation.
Still, even without clear agreement, it’s on everyone’s mind, and that was incredibly clear for anyone in attendance at this year’s Trimble Dimensions event in Las Vegas, which took place last week. Automation was a clear theme throughout the show, and it wasn’t just talk from the Trimble team. One of the major announcements made by the construction tool company was around automation, releasing an intention to collaborate with automation specialist Exyn on a proof of concept for a fully autonomous surveying solution specifically for construction sites.
This collaboration, while just a proof of concept, is potentially a very big one for the construction industry moving forward. In Trimble, there is one of the biggest names in construction technology with a long history of innovation in the space. Meanwhile, although Exyn isn’t quite as big of a name it has worked with the construction industry as well, and specifically in achieving high-level automation in the field. While their products previously have been more focused on automating processes for UAVs, with which they have achieved level four autonomy, those UAVs have completed reality capture projects on construction sites.
That’s what the two companies are hoping to achieve here with this new collaboration, just with ground-based robots instead of UAVs. Specifically, the two sides are working to achieve the same level of autonomy with the Spot robot from Boston Dynamics. This proof of concept solution is going to integrate Spot with the ExynPak powered by ExynAI from Exyn and the Trimble X7 total station solution for reality capture. The ExynPak is a SLAM-based mapping solution that can be either attached to a vehicle or used as a handheld, while ExynAI is the technology that gives their solutions the level four autonomy. The X7, meanwhile, is a high-speed 3D laser scanning device from Trimble designed for maximum ease of use without sacrificing accuracy.
Using Spot on construction sites is certainly not a new idea, and Trimble already integrates their laser scanners with the robot to complete reality capture projects on these sites. However, right now there is a certain amount of human intervention necessary to complete this work. Users will need to at least walk through, with Spot, any area they want scanned so that the robot can create a map of the area for future walks. In speaking with Geo Week News at the Dimensions event last week, Exyn field engineer Curtis Linton explains that the goal with this proof of concept is to avoid this step. ExynAI’s level of autonomy should allow for Spot to walk through any site on its own fully autonomously. This, in turn, both opens up the number of spaces that can reasonably be scanned as Spot could theoretically enter spaces humans may not be able to, and also certainly saves valuable time for humans working on the site.
These kinds of solutions are going to be critical for construction companies as they look to continue streamline their efficiency amid financial crunches and hiring shortages. Being able to collect accurate and insightful reality capture data using well-established scanners that Trimble provides along with high levels of autonomy should allow them to do just that.
Trimble Vice President of Technology Innovation Aviad Almagor said of the potential of this proof of concept, “It can improve operational efficiency and transparency throughout the build lifecycle while also transforming worker safety for potentially hazardous data collection.” Exyn CEO Nader Elm added, “Industry has been waiting for reliable and robust autonomous technology to transform difficult and dangerous activities. Exyn's technology is helping to enable a new front in human-robot collaboration. By working with preeminent leaders such as Trimble, we aim to create adaptable, state-of-the-art systems to tackle the complexities across construction and industrial environments.”