New Worldwide Robot Adventures

It’s summer and time to catch up on some interesting tech news.  This post is about robots going beyond their use in warehouses, factories or even as personal assistants – indeed, it’s about robots outdoors.

On the farm, in Australia, there’s the robotic LadyBird which

“was designed and built specifically for the vegetable industry with the aim of creating a ground robot with supporting intelligent software and the capability to conduct autonomous farm surveillance, mapping, classification, and detection for a variety of different vegetables.“


You can find out more at, which also lets you know that its developer, University of Sydney robotics Professor Salah Sukkarieh, was named last month as the "Researcher of the Year” by the Australian Vegetable Industry association.

From robots working hard in the fields, let’s go to robots having some fun on the road – HitchBot, which is the invention of two Canadian computer scientists.  HitchBot plans to hitch rides across Canada this summer. 


As HitchBot says on its website:

“I am hitchBOT — a robot from Port Credit, Ontario.

“This summer I will be traveling across Canada, from coast-to-coast. I am hoping to make new friends, have interesting conversations, and see new places along the way. As you may have guessed robots cannot get driver’s licenses yet, so I’ll be hitchhiking my entire way. I have been planning my trip with the help of my big family of researchers in Toronto. I will be making my way from the east coast to the west coast starting in July.

“As I love meeting people and hearing stories, I invite you to follow my journey and share your hitchhiking stories with me as well. If you see me by the side of the road, pick me up and help me make my way across the country!”

Going from the ground to the air, in the realm of semi-robotic flight, otherwise known as drones, there’s a new one that reminds me of Star Wars Flying Speeder Bike – without the pilot.  One article describes this new drone from Switzerland as:

“an autonomous drone in a fully immersive rollcage that keeps it protected from whatever it might fly into — in this case, trees, but the robust safety of the thing means it might soon be perfectly applicable for combing disaster areas or any other tight spaces.”



Also from the end of last year, another drone was featured in a New Scientist article titled “Spider-drones weave high-rise structures out of cables”.  This one was also developed in Switzerland at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich.

As the article notes:

The drones could make building much easier, says roboticist Koushil Sreenath at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. "You just program the structure you want, press play and when you come back your structure is done,” he says. “Our current construction is limited, but with aerial robots those limitations go away.”

And these are just a few of the examples of robotics changing how we will get things done outdoors around the globe.

© 2014 Norman Jacknis


Get The Most Out Of Your Construction Money

[Note: This was originally posted on a blog for government leaders, February 23, 2009]

Construction is a major expenditure for state and local governments. This is going to be the case even more as many billions of dollars will go into infrastructure from the Federal Recovery and Reinvestment Act. 

It’s also important to realize that construction costs are a major factor in projects that are not officially called construction projects. For example, over the last few years, many governments have invested in public safety radio projects or broadband projects. While these are about communications and technology, often the construction costs associated with these projects are larger than the cost of acquiring the technology.

So the key question is whether you are getting the most from every dollar spent on construction. The answer is that, if you just let the construction proceed as it always has been done, you are increasingly wasting money.

The construction industry’s productivity picture is below that of US industry, in general. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity in the construction industry has declined since 1968. Stanford University Professor Paul Teicholz reports that”construction work per hourly work hour has gradually declined – over the past 40 years at an average compound rate of -0.59%/year.”  But there is hope on the horizon. 

A few forward thinking architects, engineers, builders and computer experts have banded together to create a new four dimensional approach to construction projects, which goes by the name ”Building Information Modeling” or BIM. Despite the name, BIM can be used in any construction project – highways and sewers, for example – not just buildings.

BIM is still a developing technology and approach, so the most dramatic benefits are still in the future. Already, though, those who have used BIM have seen substantial reductions in costs and shrinkage of project schedules. 

Some have reported reductions of as much as a third over the traditional construction approach. A significant cause of these reductions is that BIM results in a reduction in claims for errors, which traditionally have meant costly rework and ad hoc redesign on the job site. Since BIM coordinates the work of all the trades on a job, it virtually eliminates the problems that ensue when, for example, electrical wiring and water pipes are put in the same place.BIM also enables the prefabrication of customized components. 

This gives you the savings of pre-fab manufactured buildings, without the need to conform to the manufacturer’s stock designs. For example, a 50 foot component wall could be built off site from the specifications and just be put into place. 

The US General Services Administration (GSA) has started to require firms who construct federal buildings to use BIM. Hopefully, State and Local governments will also start to require BIM of their construction bidders.

For further information about BIM, the best starting point is a 12 minute video that GSA prepared about their”Journey Into Building Information Modeling” at– This video is part of a general GSA website devoted to BIM at It includes all kinds of publications that you might want to pass along to your public works or other construction staff.

The buildingSMART alliance is the organizational leader of BIM. Its ”focus is to guarantee lowest overall cost, optimum sustainability, energy conservation and environmental stewardship to protect the earth’s ecosystem.”

Wikipedia, of course, has an entry on BIM at An introductory article, ”Intelligent Design Through BIM” can be found at

© 2011 Norman Jacknis Permalink