It would no longer be a huge leap to imagine a future where a site is equipped with self-aware Gritting Robots housed in strategically placed hubs.
Automatically activated with up-to-the-minute and personalised ground temperature forecasts, each robot follows its pre-programmed and optimised gritting route, guided with centimetre accurate navigation systems.
Lasers and sensors keep the robots on the right route and safe from hazards and humans, returning unaided to their hubs to replenish salt and recharge their new generation batteries.
The pace of adoption of Artificial Intelligence, sensors and robotics has been speeding up with viable applications making their mark in a range of other sectors, appearing both front of house with robotic concierges at Yohotel and back-office in the warehouses with Amazon’s army of packing robots.
As robots prove their worth it won’t be long before they are thought of simply as helpful aids and machines, losing the robotic label altogether.
Any vision like this has been slow to materialise in the outdoor FM environment but we feel the timing is right as two forces are now coming together.
One is the next wave of digitisation and advances in key technologies - AI, lower cost electronics and robotics, Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) enhanced with higher levels of precision accuracy and alternative batteries such as molten metal!
The other is the readiness of FM to consider better ways of servicing labour intensive jobs.
We’ve been working for the past twelve months on developing the industry’s first Robotic Gritter.
Much of the ground work to automate the information needed to feed the activation of a robot has already been done.
Our earlier investments in our bespoke system Nimbus, integrated forecast data with an understanding of the processes from our people on the ground. Our most recent smart sensor, which transmits temperatures from the site, is a further key ingredient in realizing this future image of fully automated gritting.
It’s easy to talk about change, but we’re known for our resourcefulness to make change happen. With the gap in the market for our needs we’ve taken the initiative and first step with research and development to prove the hardware.
We’ve created a practical physical device that is manoeuvrable and is able to properly disperse marine salt. The speed and running time in relation to the overall weight had to assessed along with the capability to be automated.
Cue our prototype nicknamed RoboGrit, that we are eager to be trialling with clients sites this winter. Compared to many of the featureless factory and cleaning robots, RoboGrit is compact as this version carries minimal salt. It looks are almost sporty, if it weren’t for the warning light and audible spinning auger feed!
The first service trials of Robogrit are to perfect the safety aspects and spreading ability. This is fundamental as the added value of further automation will depend on its accuracy, consistency and potential materials cost savings.
At GRITIT we are adopting this smarter approach to winter maintenance through the development of road surface temperature sensors. This hardware solution sends real-time data readings of relative road surface temperatures and precipitation direct to our network.
Digital temperature sensors can be placed on any surface and are independently powered to provide live readings from a client’s site. By offering a live feed of precise temperature conditions it is now possible to provide greater accuracy of forecasts and delivery and timing of servicing and thus avoid over-servicing when it's not necessary. This also offers an additional layer of security to a given site.
These leaps in technology are changing the nature of what constitutes best practice and while it is possible to implement some of these practices in house it is also making the outsourcing winter maintenance a far more compelling proposition for many public sector organisations.
Equally, while technology is ensuring more responsive service delivery, it is just as important to note that there is no substitute for effective human planning: Safer winters start with a carefully considered winter maintenance plan.
Next, we can quickly move on to larger salt capacities and the integrating the more proven fields of GPS control and object avoidance. The added challenge for us is to achieve all these benefits with a durable and reliable device. In our field of winter maintenance services adopting the best tools for the job has always paid-off – no business can afford a breakdown or ‘does not compute’ error at 4am and at -8O temperatures.
Our final generation of RoboGrit is likely to look bulkier, more rugged and be a lot smarter and independent. But we do believe the future robots will work easily alongside our people to provide the economies and added value for customers long before substitute futuristic developments such as under car-park heating and jet powered hover boards.
More information here..