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Autonomous Solutions: Autonomous Development in the Green Industry



Welcome to ZAPT's fourth blog series: Autonomous Solutions. This series provides insight into what types of equipment we believe are great candidates for autonomy, what it takes for equipment to be an autonomous solution with examples, our ongoing custom autonomous engineering projects, and the future of autonomy from other industry experts. This blog follows our recent experience at Equip Exposition 2022, where we featured Nomad, our 60" fully autonomous commercial mower, and discussed our custom autonomous solutions for outdoor power equipment to help customers increase their productivity.

ZAPT manufactures and develops autonomous products and technologies. As many of you see, the development of autonomous technology is no longer a rumor but is now emerging in markets. Today, we will mainly discuss autonomous developments around our mower Nomad, but we also specialize in designing custom autonomous solutions for other outdoor power equipment. Essentially, If the equipment does a repetitive job and is in a definable space, we can customize a sensor suite for autonomous operations - but we will discuss this further in the next blog. Much of the green industry's commercial equipment falls within these categories, which is why Nomad was created.

We will address three main topics regarding autonomous development in the green industry:

  1. Trust and acceptance of emerging autonomous solutions

  2. Validating Autonomous Products & Technologies in the Green Industry

  3. Potential Opportunities for Automation

Trust & Acceptance of Autonomous Solutions

In emerging technologies, especially autonomous solutions, blind trust is not expected, as change can be scary, and acceptance of anything takes time. The more autonomous mowers and other autonomous products are accepted, the better they become over time, and the sooner they will provide the efficient solution they are designed for. Like other AI developments, people have largely benefited from the consistency and reliability robots offer. People need to understand that these robots are fail-safe. The idea that a robot is more dangerous than a human assumes that humans are more careful, which is not true. For example, Nomad, ZAPT's fully autonomous mower, will only mow if it is absolutely sure, and if human intervention is required, it will request it before continuing to mow.

Early adoption of autonomous mowers and other products will benefit any company by getting into an emerging market from the start instead of playing catch up. If this means due diligence on the redundant safety sensors and the cost structure is required, this will benefit any company. Acceptance of emerging autonomous solutions requires a good understanding of how these technologies operate, what they can do, and how they are safe. Therefore, the education of customers will play a critical role for any supplier of autonomous products and technologies when selling into the market.

Validating Autonomous Products & Technologies in the Green Industry

Like many industries, the green industry has been leading up to the implementation of autonomous solutions for many years. Why? Because saving time saves money. The development of new technology has many benefits, but the sole reason for new developments is to increase productivity to get more done and make more money. If a company can take on more work with the same workforce, it will generate more revenue. So long as the autonomous solution is cost comparable to equipment and people, the additional annual revenue from more contracts through adding an autonomous solution will create a net benefit.

For the green industry, the spotlight of new technology has been on developing autonomous mowers. There are many benefits of autonomous mowers, which mainly stem from the considerable challenges many companies face from the labor shortage. The first benefit of adding an autonomous mower as part of the crew is the ability to take on now more contracts with the same number of personnel. With the addition of an autonomous mower, companies can scale operations without being tethered to work visas or personnel staffing constraints. With the added efficiency of an autonomous mower on a job site, time is saved cutting grass, opening up more jobs to be completed with the same crew.

On that same note, there is increased human time for detail-oriented work such as trimming trees and edging, while the mower will take on the repetitive and monotonous task of cutting grass. This is a substantial time saving, especially on large job sites with a lot of grass to mow. Therefore, adding an autonomous mower will take advantage of human capital for lawn and landscaping companies to focus their energies on tasks that still require human oversight. A crew with the same amount of people and one or more autonomous products can now finish more jobs than before.

Potential Opportunities for Automation

Any piece of equipment that performs repetitive tasks in a definable space will benefit most from autonomy. While at Equip Exposition, we saw an opportunity in all types of equipment. Whether we looked at individual pieces of equipment designed for application (sprayers and spreaders) or installation equipment (fence post drivers and aerators), or driven equipment (snowplows and street sweepers), we saw opportunities for automation. Without labor to operate the equipment, any repeatable task becomes a prospect for evaluation.

Also, any equipment that performs potentially dangerous work will benefit from autonomy to mitigate the risk of human injuries. For example, mowing on any high slope has the potential for a rollover injury risk. This risk is entirely removed with the option for an autonomous mower to perform this task. A broken wheel has no HSE statistic implications, but a broken arm does.

Image: Nomad, ZAPT's fully autonomous commercial mower at Equip Expo

To Wrap Things Up

Autonomous development in the green industry has been discussed for many years, and it is finally hitting the markets, especially autonomous mowers. While at Equip Exposition, the largest lawn and landscaping exposition in the US, we saw many potential opportunities to expand autonomous development. Many people we spoke to were interested in autonomous solutions on or coming to the market.

Trust be told, many tasks are nearly impossible for a human to do as efficiently as a robot. Emerging autonomous solutions in the green industry will allow companies to shorten time on the job, accept more contracts to generate more revenue, minimize injuries in the workplace, maximize human detail-skilled tasks, and increase production. The continued development of autonomous solutions is the next step for the green industry.

In this blog, we discussed the benefits of these autonomous solutions, other types of equipment with autonomous potential, and why people should trust and accept autonomous development within the green industry. Next time, our Autonomous Solutions blog will discuss what it takes for equipment to be an autonomous solution with examples.


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