New Mobile Robotic Platform for Construction Sites

Husky A200—a mobile robotic platform—is being investigated by scientists for possible applications in autonomous logistic tasks performed on construction locations.

The Husky A200 research platform. Image Credit: © LIVE-STYLE Eppan.

The novel mobile robot is one of several projects being tracked by the Fraunhofer Italia Innovation Engineering Center based in Bolzano, Italy, to improve the cause of digitalization in the construction field and close the gap that exists between the building sector and robotics.

At this center, scientists are creating a software interface that will allow mobile robots to navigate around construction locations.

There is a phenomenal demand for affordable living space. Developers venturing into huge and complex construction projects require efficient solutions that save both time and cost. Fraunhofer Italia Innovation Engineering Center has set out to provide these solutions and speed up the decision-making processes in construction workflows.

The Center is a legally independent Fraunhofer affiliate and is investigating a technology known as building information modeling (BIM) to create software interfaces and systems to that end.

The BIM technology provides everyone with a need to know—building owners, planners, facility managers, technicians, and construction workers—access to a digital data model of the building all through its lifecycle.

On the one hand, we aim to establish and apply BIM in South Tyrol. On the other hand, we want to bring digital planning to the construction site and build a bridge between construction and robotics.

Michael Terzer, Research Fellow, Fraunhofer Italia Innovation Engineering Center

Terzer is also a member of the Automation and Mechatronics Engineering team at the Bolzano Center.

Along with collaborators from the Process Engineering in Construction research group working on the ROSBIM project, Terzer has developed a software interface to connect the BIM technology with the Robot Operating System (ROS).

This software is a modular open-source platform set up on a small PC situated on the mobile robot. Since the development tool is platform-independent, it can be accommodated by different types of robots. Various programming languages are also supported by the ROS.

It’s Alive!

The software interface employs the Industry Foundation Classes (IFC) file format. It helps to feed digital object-oriented data into the robot.

A construction site is animate and constantly changing. The ROSBIM interface receives time-sensitive data such as information about obstacles that the robot cannot detect with its sensors. This way, the robot can be alerted to things like an open cable pit or elevator shaft on a given day at the construction site so that it can navigate around these pitfalls.

Michael Terzer, Research Fellow, Fraunhofer Italia Innovation Engineering Center

That means the robot can constantly revise its obstacle map via the Robot Operating System,” Terzer added.

The complete information is archived in the BIM database and needs to be continuously updated. Digital object-oriented data is applicable to all stages of the construction process—right from planning and construction to infrastructural upgrades and facility management.

Digitalization offers the construction industry unprecedented possibilities for an integrative way of working. BIM is a key component in the digitalization of construction. The combination of this innovative working method and robotics is one of the many opportunities that digitalization offers to this industry.

Carmen Marcher, Team Lead, Process Engineering in Construction, Fraunhofer Italia Innovation Engineering Center

Marcher continued, “At Fraunhofer Italia IEC, we have created an interface that connects BIM to commercially available research robots so they can use BIM data.”

The aim of this research team is to exploit the available digital building information related to the construction location. The primary advantage in this application case is that this information allows the mobile robot to convey heavy loads like tools and construction materials in a continuously fluctuating setting to ease the workload of individuals working on the construction location.

A Logistics Assistant

This mobile robotic platform has been developed for aggressive environments and is fitted with an electronic control unit as well as laser, acceleration, and inclination sensors to help it move on uneven ground. However, the robot is currently limited to navigating the terrains in Bolzano’s NOI Techpark.

Acting as a kind of logistics sidekick on the construction location, the mobile robotic platform tags along with the human construction personnel who trigger its follow-me function.

But the mobile robot can drive independently, as the scientists were able to show this in preliminary indoor trials.

With the help of its digital map, the robot can independently move loads from A to B, for example. However, autonomous locomotion in unstructured environments is a complex matter, so this will require steps to develop it further,” Terzer added.

The information received by the robot platform through the BIM data can help enhance its navigation potentials and boost its sensory perception. Other uses are completely practical—for instance, the mobile robotic assistant may probably prove useful for farmers.

Digitalization, the Key to Enhanced Efficiency

Bolzano-based Fraunhofer Italia Innovation Engineering Center focuses on automation and digital transformation. Its research and development efforts are centered on digitalization in flexible automation in industry, construction, digital business models, agriculture, and skilled labor.


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