Radar-Guided Robot Lugs 286 Pounds, Follows Factory Workers

Motorbike Maker Piaggio's Robot to Enhance Efficiency and Safety Across Industries
Radar-Guided Robot Lugs 286 Pounds, Follows Factory Workers
Kilo is a flatbed robot that features smart-following technology. (Image: Piaggio Fast Forward)

Designing robots to augment the human workforce requires a blend of design thinking and ergonomic science. These robots must collaborate seamlessly with humans to execute repetitive tasks and lift heavy loads without obstructing movement or causing injury. To achieve this, Boston-based Piaggio Fast Forward, a subsidiary of the Piaggio Group, has developed a robot with smart-following technology. The robots are already in use within PFF's manufacturing facilities and are being integrated into its motorcycles.

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Founded in 1884, the Piaggio Group is a leading manufacturer of motor scooters and motorcycles. In December 2004, Piaggio ventured into the motorbike business with the acquisition of the Aprilia and Moto Guzzi motorcycle brands.

PFF's robot, named "kilo," appeared at the Modex supply chain tradeshow in Atlanta, Georgia, in March. The hands-free robotic flatbed has a payload of up to 286 pounds (130 kg). Equipped with an advanced suite of sensors and 4D radar imaging developed by PFF, kilo can autonomously follow the operator and travel over 100 predefined paths stored in its memory.

kilo allows businesses to augment their labor force across various industries, including hospitality, manufacturing, indoor agriculture and construction. It can be used in any industry that relies on the repetitive movement of goods within campuses and production facilities, according to PFF.

"Our robotics technology is augmenting workforces around the world," said Greg Lynn, CEO, PFF. "kilo offers customizable options with the ability to utilize state-of-the-art software tools to manage the human-robot relationship."

kilo is designed to work alongside humans, enabling users to move materials naturally and reducing the risk of injury. It marks the first introduction of PFF’s proprietary "Travel on Known Paths" autonomous behavior software, and provides operators with an innovative work tool with the ability to follow them or move autonomously, PFF said in a statement.

IT-OT Integration

Depending on the immediacy of response, sensors on robots and OT devices either process data locally or upload it to the cloud for aggregation and analysis.

According to Jean-Claude Coutant, CTO at PFF, sensor data for kilo is not processed on the cloud "for privacy reasons" and is instead processed locally on the robotics platform.

"kilo does not have any time-critical tasks associated with a cloud infrastructure. All real-time decision-making is done on the robotics platform," Coutant said.

But PFF also offers a cloud-based pro tools solution that provides insights into kilo's current state and usage over time, including battery consumption, robot mileage, user statistics and a fleet overview.

"The IT side monitors the cloud infrastructure for the health of the service, connects the database to BI [business intelligence] and ensures security and maintenance of the cluster," Coutant said.

The software and hardware include a highly customized off-the-shelf operating system running on a high-performance computer, ensuring smooth acceleration to support proprietary sensors, electronics and communication.

"This robotics platform allows us to run our motor controller and navigation software stack effectively and efficiently," Coutant said.

Powering Moto Guzzi

As part of a modernization project, the Piaggio Group plans to integrate kilo on the new Moto Guzzi production lines in Italy to assist operator maneuvers.

"The technology used to develop the kilo robot will also be used in the newly designed autonomous robot, kiloXL," said Christine Kuras, senior manager of IT and infrastructure at PFF.

The robotic technology is also being integrated into Moto Guzzi motorcycles. The PFF Rider Assistance Solution recently made its debut on the new Moto Guzzi Stelvio adventure bike.

PFF said this is the first time radar sensors have been designed for use on a motorcycle. Compared with a traditional rider-assistance system based on ultrasound sensors, radar sensors offer a broad field of vision and fully reliable monitoring, under any light and environmental conditions. The devices play a fundamental role in active safety, guaranteeing Forward Collision Warning, Blind Spot Information System, Lane Change Assist and Following Cruise Control functions.

"Its ergonomic design provides efficiency and safety to all operators, while autonomously delivering an assembled motorbike from end-of-line assembly to its next destination," Kuras said. "This relieves the operator from having to manually maneuver a very heavy motorbike multiple times a day."

kilo will subsequently be deployed into Piaggio Group's other production facilities in Italy, India, Vietnam and Indonesia.

Other Piaggio Robots

PFF's robots are not limited to factory operations. The company's cargo-carrying robots, including gita and gitamini, are already marketed in the U.S., where the use of autonomous robots on roadways is regulated.

With regulatory approval, PFF robots will be able to travel autonomously on streets and pedestrian areas, meeting the growing demand for last-mile and home deliveries.

About the Author

Brian Pereira

Brian Pereira

Sr. Director - Editorial, ISMG

Pereira has nearly three decades of journalism experience. He is the former editor of CHIP, InformationWeek and CISO MAG. He has also written for The Times of India and The Indian Express.

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