United Rentals
Toy Story

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Miniaturizing a real-world autonomous robotics solution

The Challenge

Our clients had a clear problem: How would they showcase their turnkey solution for autonomous Solar Site installations, some spanning over 120,000 square feet of land, in the small space of a convention hall room?

Fresh’s cross-disciplinary team of engineers, developers, and designers partnered to illustrate the solution using miniature robots, proprietary software, and a playmat.

Our Solution

At life-scale in the field, the client’s autonomous program included ROC, our Global Path Finder software that powers autonomous vehicles' navigation. In solar site installations, the autonomous vehicles were Bobcat Compact Track Loaders (CTLs). We used a miniature CTL to represent a life-size Bobcat using the power of ROC.

Core Technologies

Key Contributors

Adam Jentzsch
Adam Jentzsch
Khrisna Kamarga
Khrisna Kamarga
Nathan Turin-Mead
Nathan Turin-Mead
Jeff Dalton
Jeff Dalton
Haley Arrington
Haley Arrington
Harman Pannu
Harman Pannu
Russell Calhoun
Russell Calhoun
Stefan Petkov
Stefan Petkov
Mitch Tolson
Mitch Tolson
Kurt Daniels
Kurt Daniels
Erika Haack
Erika Haack
Vishal Prabhu
Vishal Prabhu
Darshit Dalal
Darshit Dalal
Mariana Araújo
Mariana Araújo

A massive worksite, miniaturized

Anki Vector, a toy robotics company, had already created “Personal Companion” bots referred to as “Vector.” Each robot included a custom Software Development Kit (SDK) that gave us an added level of control. To simulate our autonomous solar site installation, we programmed customized Vector robots powered by ROC to navigate a playmat, representing the solar site.

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Navigating with pinpoint accuracy

ROC interprets obstacles, defined by their geodesic coordinates, and outputs a path of waypoints to ensure safe navigation. On large solar site installations, the curvature of the earth is taken into account. Distances measured over a sphere-like object have different properties than distances measured over a flat surface. ROC considers everything in Geodesic points, which presented a challenge with our flat playmat.

Unable to alter ROC’s interpretation before the trade show, we printed actual satellite imagery embedded with latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates and designed a scaling factor where “real-world” meters were adjusted to centimeters. Then, we wrote a software script to apply the scaling factor and printed digital “map tiles” for that playmat that represented sections of the worksite, visible at varying degrees of zoom.

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Side-by-side of the bot following the software

Localizing the robot with a custom SDK

Anki’s Software Development Kit allowed Vector to track its internal “odometry.” We started by placing Vector directly on the lower-left corner of the mat (0,0), translating its odometry into real-world satellite imagery positioning. ROC displayed Vector’s position in real-time. As the robot traveled, the virtual vehicle representing Vector moved accordingly.

Replicating real-world automation

Fresh UX designers were brought on to create the playmat and the visuals. A key challenge included working with engineers and software developers to ensure physical space was accurately represented. The exhibit needed to run concurrent robot missions, illustrating the value of the use-case: delivering solar panels to multiple areas of the job site, with multiple vehicles.

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Illustrating the solution

Six weeks after development began, Fresh deployed the installation at the Total Control Conference in San Antonio, Texas. Fresh developers and robotics engineers explained to attendees how the solution worked. While Toy Story only showed two miniature CTLs working at a time, the real-world solution can run up to thirty vehicles concurrently, which is a significant strategic advantage for any organization looking to differentiate itself via robotic automation.