Piaggio Fast Forward and Trimble Announce Proof–of-Concept Collaboration to Utilize Proprietary Smart Following Technology

Piaggio Fast Forward and Trimble are deploying dynamic following technology for robots that could help revolutionize the construction industry.

Smart following technology by Piaggio Fast Forward, linked to Trimble robots, could unlock tremendous value for the construction industry. (Credit: Trimble)

Smart following technology by Piaggio Fast Forward, linked to Trimble robots, could unlock tremendous value for the construction industry. (Image courtesy of Trimble)

Robots have revolutionized the manufacturing industry, drastically reducing the number of humans performing repetitive and dangerous tasks. Manufacturing has become exponentially more efficient and safe for workers, driving up profit margins and lowering costs for finished goods. Of course, there are negative externalities like lost jobs that come with so many manufacturing jobs being taken over by robots, but as a whole, the introduction of robotics and automation has been a net positive for people all over the world.

While manufacturing floors have become the domain of robots, construction sites remain largely human-oriented. Construction sites, unlike factory floors, are dynamic, ever-changing and extremely busy. This has proven challenging for the full-scale rollout of robotic construction assistants, but Piaggio Fast Forward and Trimble are making progress on a new technology that will create more opportunities to utilize robots in construction, mining, logistics, or farming.

Piaggio Fast Forward’s research to date has been focused on smart following technology, which allows a robotic device to closely trail a human. PFF’s first consumer product, the Gita is a knee-high, wheeled robotic device that can carry up to 40 pounds. The Gita is targeted at urban users who need groceries or luggage carried for them. It can even function as a moving cooler.

The total addressable market for a moving robot that can carry your groceries might not be all that big, but it’s the technology that could unlock substantial value for Piaggio Fast Forward. Unlike most following robots, Gita does not need a remote control or a tracking device. It pairs directly with the user’s smartphone and goes from there with sensing technology and neural networks.

Piaggio Fast Forward has applied the technology that powers the Gita and joined forces with Trimble to create the PFFtag and open up a smart following to multiple partners in the industry. The PFFtag shares the algorithms and software that Piaggio has developed and combines it with the robotic software with the robots built by Trimble or Boston Dynamics.

“Most robotics companies look at the world as a world of obstacles,” said Greg Lynn, PFF’s chief executive officer. “At PFF, we adopted the opposite approach and this philosophy has fueled our research of how humans and robots physically move through space. We design behaviors 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 enables 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.”

Dynamic following could be the silver bullet to unlock significant value in human-robot collaboration in the construction industry. If fully implemented, smart following could replace robots that must be remotely controlled or programmed to follow a specific grid and allow robots and humans to truly work in tandem. The PFF technology is user-friendly and has a minimal learning curve, unlike robots that must be programmed or remote-controlled. 

If the partnership between PFF and Trimble proves fruitful, it could establish the duo as a force to be reckoned with and the stand-alone leader in construction robotics. Robots may never fully take over construction – there’s just too much going on to fully automate a busy highway project or high-rise tower – but this breakthrough technology could prove to be a boon for the industry.