JLG Industries Inc. has announced a development partnership with RE2 Robotics, a developer of intelligent robotic mobile manipulation systems. Through this partnership the companies will advance integration of robotics with access equipment in an effort to help improve safety and productivity on job sites.
The two companies will work together as part of a project for which RE2 received a U.S. Dept. of Energy (DOE) award. For this project RE2 will develop a robotic solar field construction system for the autonomous manipulation of photovoltaic panels. A JLG aerial work platform will be integrated with RE2's Sapien 6M robotic arm as well as its RE2 Detect and RE2 Intellect software. This will enable the JLG machine to transfer, lift and place the photovoltaic panels.
Introduced in July 2021, the RE2 Sapien 6M robotic arm features embedded intelligence, integrated arm control and high strength-to-weight ratio. Its hardware design ensures optimal performance in extreme temperatures and environmental conditions. RE2 says the arm has six degrees of freedom which includes continuous wrist and elbow roll joints, enabling precise manipulation and placement of objects.
The robotic arm works together with the RE2 Detect and RE2 Intellect software to enable autonomous manipulation of objects. Teleoperation is also possible with the robotic arm when it is used with RE2 Imitative Controller, a technology designed to provide remote control capabilities.
For its part, JLG will provide engineering support during the technology development phase of the project the company says in its press release announcing the partnership. The companies are currently working together on the mechanical and control system interface between the robotic arm and the lift.
“Robotic technologies have long been used in a variety of industries,” says Frank Nerenhausen, Oshkosh Corporation Executive Vice President and President, JLG Industries. “The productivity imperative, along with the COVID-19 pandemic, have accelerated the need for and adoption of robotic technologies beyond the factory floor. In fact, a large focal area in construction and industrial applications today is remote operation of equipment that keeps workers out of harm’s way.
“While JLG has been leveraging and developing robotics in specific areas of our business for quite some time, our focus has shifted to developing and incorporating solutions that integrate with our lifts to help offset labor shortages and provide assistive technologies to a now 5-generation workforce. The relationship with RE2 allows us to partner with an organization who has the same drive for excellence as JLG, enabling us to accelerate the integration of robotics across our product line to move the access industry forward.”
Finding skilled labor continues to be a challenge in construction and other industries. Use of robotics, automation and other similar smart technologies can help to overcome this industry challenge, while also potentially helping attract new workers who might be interested in using these types of advanced technologies. They can also help to make the work easier and more comfortable, improving safety and overall work enjoyment.
For the RE2 project, skilled workers will supervise the robotic solar field construction system using computer vision to autonomously retrieve solar panels from a delivery vehicle and precisely place the panels onto a racking system, explains JLG in its press release. A worker on the job site follows and secures the panel.
RE2's robotic arm is able to provide human-like dexterity to place the burden of the heavy lifting on the robotic system. As such, workers will be kept safe and comfortable while remaining productive and able to reduce the amount of time required to construct a solar field.
“The future of work is here,” says Jorgen Pedersen, RE2’s President and CEO. “Humans and robots are working more closely together, and the construction industry is no exception. Our developmental partnership with JLG will enable us to apply our proven robotic technology to specific applications, including those that require working at height and repetitive lifting such as solar field construction.”
“Developmental partnerships, acquisitions and organic product innovation serve as the three core pillars of our growth philosophy. When combined, they facilitate our ability to remain agile and accelerate the development of the future technologies that will advance the construction industry,” says Nerenhausen. “Our work with RE2 Robotics is an excellent example of how we are driving progress with companies who are experts and leaders in their respective fields.”
The companies say a concept machine is forthcoming, with demonstrations planned to gather additional feedback in the near future.