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When it comes to robotics, Newton's first law applies — and there's no going back

Automated and autonomous robotic solutions are moving efficiency, productivity and sustainability goalposts closer and closer for heavy industries — delivering greater profitability for all.

In fields, pits and worksites across the globe, advanced automation is offering contractors and equipment operators the equivalent of an “easy” button — helping them better optimize workflows while transforming monotonous, dangerous and time consuming tasks into a faster, easier, greener and safer process.

Automation, robotics, autonomy all have one thing in common: they’re all sparking change that fuels even more ideas, better processes and transformative enhancements. Some of the latest robotics trends might be familiar, while others might sound like science fiction. But they’re not. 

Bessie makes her own decisions…

Consider the milking industry, where technology and disruptive thinking have flipped the script — effectively allowing cows to be milked on their schedule instead of the farmer’s. How? With a robotic milker, of course, where cows are learning to voluntarily drop in for milking when they need it. Unlike a farmer, the sensor-rich milker is always available, and ready to oblige. Farmers don’t even need to be present, and can instead tend to higher value tasks. 

While other robotics trends in agriculture might not sound quite so futuristic, the advancements are no less industry-changing. Take precision agriculture, driving down operational costs with the help of sensors and GNSS positioning technology that shift the burden off operators when seeding, fertilizing, spraying and harvesting. Even chemical application is being retooled, with tech that can tell weeds from plants, only spraying the former. UV-C light is even being harnessed to zap mildew from fragile strawberries — a solution enabled in part by Trimble. 

Precision application and crop-sensing technologies based on real-time data further optimize yields, minimizing inputs that lower operation costs. (Big nod to AI here, another trend that is making a lot of these recent capabilities even more astute. The role it plays in data collection and analysis is immeasurable.)

Another trend is making machines more versatile, featuring modular platforms that deliver more automation bang for the buck. Sometimes referred to as “all-in-one” machines, these multi-purpose machines can (for example) perform planting, spraying, harvesting — all on the same machine. 

Mining is seeing exponential growth in robotic advancements as well, with remote operations centers and semi-autonomous drilling, blasting and processing among the trending solutions that:

  • Improve safety for site personnel

  • Increase machine utilization, precision and efficiency

  • Reduce operational cost and improve productivity

It isn’t even necessary for operators to be in the cab anymore. Instead, they can sit in the comfort of an offsite building with remote controls — making it attractive to younger workers. While the goal here is more safety-related — by removing operators from hazardous environments — the added convenience and efficiency factors don’t hurt. In these scenarios, localization and perception are paramount in maneuvering around obstacles via a 360-degree view of the environment.

Where are the opportunities for robotics and big data?

At a basic level, a machine or robot is really there to optimize the task and workflow. And that’s starting to resonate in construction, where robotics spans from operator assist all the way through to gaining back office visibility into what is happening day-to-day, enabling more informed decisions.

Contractors are recognizing the tech not as a replacement for equipment operators, but as a tool that upskills workers — making them more productive. Today, it has the potential to be a force multiplier that can move past optimizing one construction machine at a time to running two to three.

Data collection and analysis creates a tremendous value add. Being able to digitally tie field data into estimation and scheduling provides stakeholders with accurate, real-time information that enable nimble adjustments on the fly.

Here again, AI and machine learning will play lead roles in enhancing the decision-making capabilities of robots that adapt quickly to ever-changing environments, negate labor challenges, improve safety, optimize workflow and learn from real-time data.

Operator assist technologies are getting more user friendly, too — with “automatics” that feel more like game controls that keep an excavator bucket on grade with one finger, rather than two hands. As robotics in dynamic environments such as construction sites and deep pit mines evolve, this will be done with increasing sensing capabilities, to ensure safety. AI will assist there, ushering in advancements in object detection.

Edge computing will continue to raise the bar on robotics and IoT capabilities, localizing data analytics to make systems faster, and less reliant on a cloud connection. This enhanced computing power will allow AI to move to the edge, fueling an even higher degree of innovation.

Surveying and mapping is getting in on the action too, tapping LiDAR for 3D laser scanning to visualize and pre-register data in the field, which can then be processed to deliver digital twins for better decision making and customer collaboration.

Robotics is transforming industries, creating opportunities to take your business to build and expand like never before. But who you partner with to get you there makes all the difference. Choose a provider with the domain experience, tech expertise and ecosystem to get you to market faster, with solutions easy enough for anyone to use. 

The global industrial robotics market was estimated to be worth $17 billion in 2023 and is poised to reach $32.5 billion by 2028. The UN is even leveraging AI-enabled robots to monitor and manage climate change.

—Markets and Markets