PFM 21 1 - Page 20



cover story
NEWS
RoboGrit and Dilemmas in Digitisation
Facilities management won’t escape the rise of the robots, but the experts at winter maintenance
specialists GRITIT are actively working towards a future where man and machine will work together in
harmony.
I
t’s a few hours before dawn on a
crisp clear morning. The car park
lies in low valley and, even though
a frost hadn’t been predicted by the
local forecast, the cold air coming off
the surrounded hills has become
trapped, chilling the road surface to
below zero and forming a slippery
layer of ice. Yet despite the
unexpected nature of the frost, the
GRITIT RoboGrit is awake, loaded up
with salt and at work – already alerted
by sensors embedded in the road
surface that had detected the
dropping ground temperatures. The
robot systematically sweeps back
and forth across the parking bays
spreading grit, only briefly diverting
from the optimised route it follows
with centimetre accuracy to avoid the
occasional car that’s been left
charging overnight.
This isn’t quite science fiction: With
some refinement, this is all possible
using today’s technology. In fact,
RoboGrit isn’t a fictional character either.
Not quite. This winter we’ll be starting
our first trials of an experimental
prototype on real client sites. Looking
like a hi-tech miniature dune buggy,
systems. Crucially, many of these
technologies are already tried and tested
from other industries - drawing on
established GPS navigation tools and
robotic systems that are already in use
in warehouses and factories. Meanwhile,
the machine vision systems and
designed as part of a wider network of
connected, data-driven system. It
belongs to the Internet of Things, where
smart machines are able to make better
decisions with ever greater autonomy
and efficiencies. Consequently, work on
a gritting robot actually follows our earlier
GRITIT RoboGrit (the inevitable
nickname has stuck) isn’t actually
clearing that much ice these days. It is
however an important testbed for
technologies that include navigation,
collision detection and spreading
batteries being developed for automated
and electrified transportation are falling
in cost and becoming increasingly
available.
As with virtually every other new
technology today, RoboGrit is also being
investments into a bespoke system that
integrates forecast data to plan gritting
runs, and in parallel with ongoing work
to develop smart sensors to transmit
surface temperatures from sites. Again,
both of those developments applied
20

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