The three most referred to robotic line markers each have their own personality, yet interestingly enough they also have some surprising similarities.
Ask any club, school or municipal official tasked with preparing sports fields for the best invention since the introduction of sliced bread and it is likely that they will point out the development of robotic field marking equipment. Automated field marking equipment slashes the time they spent on a very important yet boring, repetitive activity, enables them to multitask and delivers a higher quality and more flexible result. Robotic field marking equipment has also reduced the reliance for clubs, schools and municipalities on volunteers.
The three best known robotic line markers are Turf Tank, TinyMobileRobots and Traqnology. While their technology and approach differ, the three do have some things in common.
Line markers unique approaches
The approach towards line marking by the three robotic units makes each of them unique. Turf Tank and TinyMobileRobots are two small-sized yet fully automated robots while Traqnology has used its knowledge on precision agriculture to develop a control unit to automate the process and ensure adequate delivery. Their field marking unit is an add-on. Turf Tank is a four-wheel robot while TinyMobileRobots only uses three wheels. The reasoning by Turf Tank to go for four wheels is that this gives the robot more stability and to distribute the weight of the approximately 50 to 60kg unit evenly. Turf Tank claims that the weight, in combination with four wheels, also makes the unit less vulnerable to a possible unevenness of the surface. The three-wheel TinyMobileRobots, which weighs approximately 30 kg (including paint) and has a smaller front wheel which contributes to the manoeuvrability of the unit. The three-wheel approach means that, contrary to a four-wheel approach whereby one wheel might be hoovering over the field, all three wheels will always touch the ground. TinyMobileRobots says that it also uses big mountainbike style tyres to ensure an efficient grip in wet seasons. Ease of use and the weight for the Traqnology unit largely depends on the carrier the control unit is fitted on. However, where the Turf Tank and TinyMobileRobots technology operate independently, the Traqnology require an operator to operate the vehicle.
Similar software packages
Turf Tank, TinyMobileRobots and Traqnology offer a full set of templates for all sports pre-loaded, providing schools and municipalities with the flexibility to cater for all sports. TinyMobileRobots also offers a smaller and more affordable robot, the TinyMobileRobots Sport which can be loaded with the various template options for one particular sport.
All three units are controlled by means of an interface that is loaded onto tablet. Turf Tank and TinyMobileRobots use a Samsung tablet while Traqnology uses an iPad. The software has the flexibility to customize or adjust the field that needs to be marked. All three units can also be used to paint logo’s or message on the field.
Similar time to deliver
In terms of speed of operation, the three robots don’t differ much. For safety reasons, the speed with which robots are allowed to operate is legally restricted to only one meter per second maximum. Marking a full-size soccer field will take approximately 20 to 25 minutes. The difference here is that the tank capacity for both Turf Tank and TinyMobileRobots is enough to mark just one field at a time while the tank capacity for the Traqnology concept largely depends on the size and load-bearing capacity of the carrier. In theory, this could see a vehicle autonomously marking sports fields all day long without the need for reloading paint. This is unless the total weight of the vehicle, driver plus tank and equipment on the surface matters to you. However, Traqnology points out that the final weight that is distributed over the surface, won’t differ much from the other robots. The larger carrier will likely have bigger wheels while the design of the carrier will factor in the weight it will place onto the surface.
Different positioning technologies
The three different units use different technologies to move around but all achieve an accuracy within centimetres. TinyMobileRobots and Traqnology prefer the surveyor grade service available worldwide. They communicate directly with GPS satellites that orbit in space to establish their point of departure and to mark the lines according to the input. Both use a proprietary signal that is delivered through a local partner. Recent technological developments have made the technology less vulnerable to overhanging foliage or other obstacles.
Turf Tank operates with two GPS-receivers of which one is installed in a base station that needs to be placed locally every time the robot paints the lines. This base station also needs to be charged. The placement and positioning of the base station is a matter of minutes. The two communicate with the help of satellites whereby the base station delivers the RTK correction signals which improves accuracy.
Despite the different technologies used, all robots guarantee an accuracy of one to two centimetres.
The three field marking solutions also have their own ways to navigate from one field to another. Traqnology and Turf Tank are able to find their own route, their manufacturers claim. Obviously, all three robots require that any connecting route to the next field is free from obstacles and, preferably, be level.
Where the Traqnology technology is powered by whatever vehicle is chosen, the TinyMobileRobots and Turf Tank have opted for battery power. TinyMobileRobots has embraced battery technology that was developed in the e-bike industry. Fully charged the battery will last for five hours. The Turf Tank robots are powered by a lithium battery that will last for four hours. In theory, this means that the robots can mark eight to ten fields with one charge. Charging the batteries take approximately just over an hour. None of the solutions really requires much maintenance other than cleaning the nozzle with water, immediately when finished. The three robotic field marking units all use the same nozzle technology and are compatible with all sports fields marking paints available.
The need for human operators
In most countries, robots are only allowed to operate autonomously within the confines of a facility and are not allowed to move autonomously on or near public roads. Therefore, transferring the robotic field marking unit to another facility always has to be done by a human. Also, all three units have to be activated at the premises or even at the exact starting point of the first field. As mentioned earlier, the Traqnology solution can be prepped to operate all day long but requires a driver while the Turf Tank and TinyMobileRobots require an operator to be around to top up the tank before the robot can start marking another field. As the adjusting of the template or design is done on a tablet, this particular job can be done remotely.
TinyMobileRobots has all field parameters backed up in the cloud which comes in handy when different robots are used. Customers with different robots can always just take any robot and mark any field as all fields are synchronised between all robots through the cloud. The network connection of the robots also allow TinyMobileRobots to quickly help customers calling in with questions.
Traqnology points out that it can connect up to four pumps to the unit. This comes in handy when lines for an athletic running track needs to be drawn. Furthermore, it claims that, as the same control unit can be used for drawing lines as well as cutting the grass, the markings of the field can be lined up exactly with the whiff of the grass, enabling the unit to cut the grass or position the field exactly as such that it meets the spreading or spacing of the cutting pattern some football governing bodies prefer.
Last but not least
The three robots all look different, operate differently and have their own price tag. However, they all hail from the same region in Denmark. Turf Tank, TinyMobileRobots and Traqnology all saw the light in Odense, a city in Denmark that is approximately 165 km from the capital Copenhagen. With the growth of the successes by Universal Robots, the world’s largest manufacturer of cooperative robot (cobot) with its facilities in Odense, Odense Robotics was established. This cluster and interest organization brings the ecosystem together including knowledge organizations like universities. It’s here where TinyMobileRobots, Turf Tank and Traqnology found fertile grounds to develop their products before they spread out to the world.
With input from:
- Jesper Askov Bonde Petersen, Business Development Manager Odense Robotics
- Frederik Rom, General Manager Turf Tank
- Claus Bjerre, CEO Traqnology
- Jens Peder Kristensen, CEO TinyMobileRobots