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Robotics in the Field Enabled by IoT

Robotics & IoT

Ten years ago, two engineers quit their day jobs to found robotics company Conpleks. From the very beginning, the company focused on outdoor mobile robots, as well as the software solutions needed to support them. And while the company’s first focus was on agriculture, these days the award-winning Danish robotics company has moved into a number of different areas, including cloud-based fleet management and sports.

In the old days, grass fields or other wide areas were cut by hand with a scythe or sickle. It was a hard, slow process that even on a good day would yield the farmer just one acre of hay.  By the 1800s things had improved somewhat with the introduction of the horse-drawn mower, and by the early 1900s gasoline-powered tractors and mowers were being widely used. But while there have been endless improvements on that first mechanical mower, it’s only recently that we have been taking the next big step in agriculture: the robotic mower.

When the robotics company Conpleks was founded, the first thing they developed was autonomous robotics for grass cutters – but not the self-driving lawnmower you have zooming around your own backyard cutting your grass into nice strips. Instead, these grasscutters are big, autonomous industrial giants with cutting widths of 1.5 – 3 meters and 25 – 100 horsepower, and are designed to cut large grass fields, grass along a highway or in municipality parks, or other wide areas, with little or almost no human intervention.

Our robots are machines with a purpose. What we’ve done is add robotic assistance functions and additional robotic functionality to machines that already exist. So, you can operate the grasscutters we work with by driving them yourself or by using remote control, or you can let our assistant solution do the work, while you attend to something else. It all depends on your needs.”

Tom Simonsen Managing Director Conpleks

Conpleks turns existing, remote controlled machines into robot assisted vehicles, meaning if you cut a row on the side of a hill, you can let the robot repeat the row all the way up and down the hill. You need to supervise the robot, but you can put your attention on other tasks while the robot does its work.

IoT & data

Conpleks uses IoT on a number of different levels because their customers’ needs are varied and it’s important to the company that they are able to address those needs. On one level, Conpleks has super high-tech robots cutting fields, and on another level, they have track and trace options for both robots and other machinery that may or may not become autonomous in the future. So, while one customer might be removing invasive species along the Danish west coast, and another may be cutting a huge field autonomously, the task for Conpleks is the same. All actions and functions, including use of implements and tools, are being tracked and traced, and the data is uploaded to Conpleks Clara Cloud, where the customer can easily access the data.

When it comes to connecting the autonomous robots, one of the most important things is to get positioning data to the robot, as well as sending vehicle statistics, maintenance information, and pictures back to the cloud. That means data is flowing in both directions, to and from the robot – and that data means greater control over operations, freeing up manpower, and gaining crucial insights into the jobs being done today and the jobs ahead.

“There are a number of reasons for generating data,” says Simonsen. “One is to retrieve data from the machine in order to follow what it is doing and when. This includes service and maintenance data, but also geographical information. You can get daily work reports showing how many hectares you’ve cut or when a particular field was finished.  If you’re an independent contractor this kind of data provides work reports for your clients, which can be added when you send your invoices. Additionally, the data can be used for future planning purposes such as route planning and fleet management.”

Another purpose of gathering data is for work order distribution. Just say you want to cut a particular area: you create a field polygon that tells the robot exactly where to cut and after the work is done, you can upload and understand exactly what is happening out in the fields, such as driving distance, geographical location data from GPS, and other factors which are gathered in the cloud.

But there are challenges: Not all data is useful to the customer, and not all customers want or have the time to examine all of the data.

“In one of our research projects we aim to collect data from several different sources and combine them into a decision making or decision supporting system,” says Simonsen. “By combining artificial intelligence with gained experience in terms of moisture, temperature, attacks from mold or anything else that can impact your yield, we can make a solution that will allow the farmer to respond almost in real time and to pinpoint exactly where the problem is. This saves time, resources, and money because instead of spraying an entire field to address a mold problem, for example, the exact area impacted can be pinpointed and addressed.”

Working with Tele2 IoT

Conpleks is a B2B company with robots all over the globe, including in Australia, Japan, the US, and Europe, and Tele2 IoT connectivity and roaming has been crucial in serving their customers.

“When it comes to roaming, it’s about producing the same system on any device without having to distinguish whether it goes to Holland, Italy, Germany, or Japan,” explains Simonsen. “What is very important to us is that when the customer powers up the device it gets connected and it also connects to the best available network. Tele2 IoT’s roaming solution ensures this – the roaming agreements Tele2 IoT has with operators around the world means things get seamlessly connected, and we don’t have to do any administrative work to direct a given controller with a given serial number to a specific market or specific customer. It’s really plug-and-play.”

The robotics future

While agriculture is where Conpleks began its robotics journey, the innovation arm of the company means they’ve already evolved their offering – and will continue to do so.

In cooperation with an important key customer, Conpleks has jointly developed the world’s first line marking robot that paints the lines on different sports fields, such as American football, lacrosse, soccer, or almost any other sports field – and it is done using less paint and with superior accuracy and speed. For example, a full-sized soccer field would normally take two people two or three hours to paint, and they would have to measure every line to do it accurately.  The line marking robot can paint that same field autonomously in less than 30 minutes using only 2.5 liters of paint, which is quite a savings, when it comes to both time and money, and also manpower.

Simonsen says the two sides of the Conpleks company – Robotech and Innovation – complement one another. If the commercial side sees something on the market that they think they can address with robotics, the R&D side responds.

“Our next step is also working with companies who produce machinery that could work autonomously. We want to mount our equipment and integrate our robotics technology before the machines are developed and delivered, so that the end customer can power up the robotics when they’re ready without having to go through retrofitting it and all that this entails.

“We’re growing, and we’re always innovating,” says Simonsen. “We continually evaluate, what various industries need today, but also tomorrow. So, we’re running quite a number of research and innovation projects that we feel will address market needs as we move forward, both on the robotics side and on the software side of things.

“People often say we are working on solutions for the future, but we say we are working on solutions for both today and tomorrow. Robotics are happening now, and we’re working on moving the industry forward.”

If you would like to learn about about how IoT can enable your business, please get in touch.