Let a robot do the dirty work

Take a look at several challenging workplaces in which rovers can replace humans.

March 4, 2022

by

Aleksandra Szczepaniak

Leo Rover in the sewers

With the rapidly growing technology and robotics industry, many people fear that robots will take our place one day. Add robot rebellion to that and that’s a recipe for a global panic. Probably too many movies are to blame for that ;) But before we say that machines are bad and they’re going to replace us some day, let’s focus on what really matters here. It needs to be emphasized that robots are doing or will be doing only the jobs that we, humans, shouldn’t be doing in the first place. It all concerns our safety and health as well as making everything easier for us. This article presents several dangerous or challenging workplaces and areas where robots can do the job for us.

Mines

Mine autonomous vehicle
credit:technologyreview.com

Working in mines is one of the most dangerous jobs. Miners frequently tackle risks that include incidents with heavy machinery, fire, falling rocks, and entrapment. And this is why they should be able to rely on robots to facilitate their jobs and increase their safety.

There are mines that use autonomous vehicles venturing underground. Equipped with proper radars and laser scanners they can move quickly in narrow, dusty tunnels in which humans would have difficulties navigating.

Another example of autonomous wheeled robots used in the mine industry is monstrous self-driving ore-carrying vehicles used by Rio Tinto, the major metals and mining corporation. The company uses these huge, driverless trucks at its mines in Australia. With the use of high-precision GPS the vehicles find their way around and watch out for obstacles using laser scanners and radar.

Self-driving trucks can spend more time on the job since they don’t need breaks or shift changes. They’re also more predictable in the way they perform tasks. In addition, autonomous solutions improve safety, gear availability and overall performance in any mine without operators sitting in the cabin. This is important especially for remote sites where attracting and retaining a skilled workforce is challenging. Autonomous machines also reduce the risk of workers’ injuries by lowering the number of staff working around moving equipment while increasing accessibility and general productivity. If it happens that something goes wrong, the system will immediately alert the mine’s service department and deliver instant diagnostic information, helping limit total downtime.

Thus, not only is automation taking mines to a new level of safety but it’s also increasing efficiency, predictability, and productivity of hauling operations.

Construction Sites

construction site

Construction sites are another obvious choice for one of the most dangerous workplaces. Construction workers are at risk on a daily basis, surrounded by dangerous moving equipment, sharp and heavy objects, and other unsafe working conditions. With the help of mobile robots, the number of risks can be limited, though. 

Equipped with cameras, sensors and any other gear needed for a particular task, the robot could be used to, for example, traverse the zones that are too dangerous for humans to approach, carrying the needed items from one side of the workplace to another. Autonomous vehicles could also prove useful in tasks such as inspection and surveillance of the area, which altogether adds up to increasing safety and efficiency.

Warehouses

Warehouse

Another place that poses a threat to the workers’ safety is a warehouse. On a daily basis, warehouse staff need to lift up and carry plenty of merchandise, put it on the shelves, operate forklifts and so on. In such conditions, it’s not difficult for some mishaps. Someone can drop something, bump into another worker, or even into a forklift. It may cause serious injuries. Autonomous or semi-autonomous vehicles could come in handy to prevent or at least reduce the number of such incidents, not to mention boost productivity. 

For instance, autonomous rovers can be used to carry boxes across the warehouse. And with proper equipment, including various sensors, they can follow a planned path, avoiding obstacles and coming to a stop if anything comes their way. This could significantly increase the overall safety of the workplace.

Agricultural Sites

Leo Rover in a poultry farm
LeoRover in a poultry farm

What also entails not only hazards to humans but laboriousness as well to a large extent is agricultural sites.

Places like that involve the use of heavy machinery, handling various chemicals, and often they also have to do with large, potentially dangerous animals, not to mention, adverse weather conditions. 

Working in a farm, or plantation can be extremely exhausting if every task is done by a man. But there’s a way to facilitate this work – mobile robots. Wheeled rovers are invaluable in various  farming applications. For example, at some agricultural sites mobile rovers are used to move around the area carrying equipment or dispensing chemicals, which takes a lot off the farmer’s shoulders. Or, they can also come in handy in poultry farms, just like Leo Rover is being used at FLOX.

Radioactive sites

Leo Rover radiation mapping
Thelevel of irradiation mapped by Leo Rover in Fukushima

The dangers to humans that radioactive sites entail are, with no doubt, self-explanatory. 

Since humans can’t deal with radioactive products without endangering their health, there’s no way to handle them but with the use of robots. Machines have been involved in such tasks for a long time now.

Very often the nuclear environment is too unpredictable and the tasks too diverse for autonomous robotics. That’s why the most common solution is the use of remotely controlled telerobots. 

Nuclear power plants require robots to perform various tasks on a daily basis like collecting radioactive waste or carrying dangerous materials. But there are also post-nuclear sites, such as Chernobyl or Fukushima, that are of interest to researchers who conduct analyses of the contaminated area. Performing the tasks in either case wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for robots to begin with.

Hard-to-reach areas

Leo Rover in the sewers
LeoRover being lowered down a rope into a sewer system

There are places with limited space that we, humans, simply have a hard time reaching, but we still need to access them. Those places include pipelines, sewers, or crawl spaces, among many others.

Depending on the kind of site we need to have a look at, there’s an array of tasks that have to be performed. In the case of pipelines and sewers, this might be collecting data on the level of contamination, water flow or potential pipes damage. Those kinds of tasks are a perfect fit for small, compact rovers that can be inserted in the pipes and inspect the area. With some extra gear attached to the robot, we’re able to map the site and with various sensors get some readings we need.

Let robots help you

As presented above, some tasks just shouldn’t be done on our own because they’re too risky. Also, a work doesn’t have to be dangerous per se to require robots to replace humans. Sometimes it can be just strenuous, utterly dull, or the place can be simply beyond our reach. It all comes down to our safety and comfort. So, it should be crystal clear now that robots are not out there to wipe us out, but to help us out.

Check out a few cool ways autonomous rovers can be of help to us with the use of an indoor GPS.

Is there any challenging environment in which you’d like to see a rover do the job for you? Share your ideas with us at contact@fictionlab.pl. :)

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