News briefs for the week take a look at the top 5 impacts of robotics on construction industry in 2022, TUGBOT: two-wheeled logistics robot that can “pull anything”, Kodiak Robotics’ $50 million payday from the Department of Defense, HITBOT’s indoor harvesting technique, and too few robot assistants for the mobility impaired. How robots impact construction industry Top 5 benefits of construction robots It’s been long understood that productivity gains in construction are hard to come by. And lately, lack of skilled workers has been added to the list of productivity concerns. According to Construction Dive: Nearly 650,000 more workers in 2022 were needed than the industry hired. It’s a perfect storm for construction robots to impact. “With robots on site, you have the ability to let them take over those mundane or repetitive tasks,” said David Burczyk, lead for construction field solutions at Trimble technology management. “That lets the human workers take on more high-value tasks.” The remedy, as seen by most construction firms, is to turn to a solution that takes on both challenges: autonomous robots. Cemex Ventures cites interest in and adoption of robotics in the construction industry taking off after the COVID-19 outbreak, and hitting a value of$44.63 million in 2020. The market is forecast to more than double by 2026 to $95.10. The ramp up to more autonomous robots on construction sites is happening now. Here are Trimble’s Top 5 robot impacts for 2022: Autonomous scanning by robots onsite to collect consistent and reliable data for improved production and productivity. Site safety already sees insurance companies lowering rates for companies that use robots in dangerous situations. Site progress monitoring. Robots can capture 360-degree images and video indoors and outdoors, including in locations challenging for humans to navigate. Building Information Modeling (BIM) model comparison. Equipping robots with a laser scanner and programming routine scanning routes allows them to collect highly precise 3D data on construction progress. Digital twin creation. Digital data twin of a real-world construction project that models building progress from data provided by onsite robots. TUGBOT & TUGBOT 2: two-wheeled logistics robots “that pull anything” The original concept for this unique-looking, two-wheeled logistics robot was to enable any warehouse or distribution center to automate without any modification to their existing facility or to their material-handling dollies, trolleys, or carts. And the concept was successful. Since its founding in 2013 (first marketable product 2017) TUGBOT has been deployed in 12 countries for customers like Carrefour, Bentley, SEAOS, Zolando, etc. TUGBOT originally debuted as a RoboSavvy designed and built automated guided vehicle or AGV, using cameras, lasers, sensors, environment matching marks, beacons, and GPS. In December 2022, Robosavvy Lda. became part of a large investment group changing its legal name and rebranding as TUGBOT, maker of autonomous mobile robots or AMR’s. The Sintra, Portugal-based TUGBOT comes equipped with a 3D LiDAR-based system, enabling the new TUGBOTS to recognize their surroundings quickly and move around smoothly. Says the TUGBOT website: “Therefore, no need to worry about crashing into other robots, they are able to detect their surroundings and move smoothly.” Plus, the company claims that it’s proprietary, automated gripper can attach to any cart; no need for specialized gripper; they “can pull anything,” says TUGBOT. TUGBOT weighs 45kg, maximum payload of 300kg. Recharge every 5 hours. TUGBOT 2 weighs 90kg, maximum payload of 600kg (optional top rack for additional 250kg). Recharge every 5 hours.Top speed for both: 2m/s Max. speed. Kodiak Robotics nets$50 million

Although Level 6 autonomy for driverless automobiles is looking very distant; and some autonomous car companies are pulling the plug entirely or consolidating with others, the U.S. Military is more enthusiastic than ever about developing autonomous reconnaissance and transport vehicles.

Mountain View, CA-based Kodiak Robotics netted \$49.9 million for a two-year contract, which was awarded by the Department of Defense’s Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) on behalf of the Army’s Robotic Combat Vehicle (RCV) group.

Kodiak beat 33 other companies that pitched for the contract. In the wake of Argo AI shutting down and questions about the future of the AV industry, this is an opportunity for Kodiak to stand out from the pack and demonstrate that its tech is capable of more than just driving trucks on highways.”

In the business of designing and building autonomous trucking technology, Kodiak is working with companies like IKEA’s Supply Chain Operations to pilot long-haul autonomous freight deliveries in Texas.  However, the war in Ukraine has prompted the U.S. Department of Defense to help the Army automate future ground vehicles to conduct high-risk missions like reconnaissance and surveillance.

Don Burnette, CEO and co-founder of Kodiak, noted that the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) was specifically looking for a dual-use application; they wanted to find a company that was working on autonomy in the commercial space that could be translated and utilized in a military setting.”

And beating out 33 other competitors, must have proved to be a great boast to the confidence in their technology.

HITBOT tries its hand at indoor harvesting

Shenzhen, China-based Huiling Technology Co.,Ltd, maker of the HITBOT line of robots, cobots, and end-effectors, has now diversified some of its tech to harvesting fruit and vegetables, what the company calls farm automated picking.

Set loose on arrays of indoor-farmed cherry tomatoes, the HITBOT autonomously locates the tomatoes, recognizes unripe from ready-to-be-harvested tomatoes —using its 3D sensor display and computer algorithms—then snares ripe tomatoes one by one, sending each, undamaged, to a basket via tubing (see video below).

Established in 2015, HITBOT is a collaborative robot manufacturer with 7 years of experience, mainly specializing in the design and production of lightweight desktop collaborative robots and electric robot grippers.

With a mission to successfully lower “the threshold for automation transformation of small and medium-sized enterprises in terms of cost and applicability,” HITBOT, with over 100 patents, now is turning to lowering the threshold for autonomous harvesting. With a production facility of over 10,000 square meters that outputs annually over 20,000 mixed robot, cobot, and end-of-arm tools, HITBOT would have the ability to offer small farmers affordable harvesting options.

Few robot assistants for the mobility impaired

Sometimes robot development defies logic and compassionate care. For example, there are 190 million people worldwide who have conditions that impair their mobility or ability to function normally, yet, according to a study from Cornell University, “there are few research groups working in this space.”

Certainly, there is ample research and plentiful development for robot prosthetics and wearable robots (i.e., exoskeletons), etc., yet little in the way of assistance for physical caregiving, where the robot touches the person, such as for feeding, bathing, or dressing, says Tapomayukh Bhattacharjee, assistant professor of computer science in the Cornell Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science.

Bhattacharjee runs the EmPRISE Lab, one of a handful of labs designing robots that assist with physical caregiving. EmPRISE is an acronym for: EMpowering People with Robots and Intelligent Shared Experiences. Bhattacharjee contends that “You need continuous feedback from the stakeholders—the care-recipients who would potentially use this technology, the caregivers and health care

Could simulation be of help, was the thought from Ruolin Ye, a doctoral student in the field of computer science. Her recent IEEE paper, A Human-centric Simulation World for Caregiving Robots, presents just such a simulation solution in lieu of active lab research.