Robot road marking with Position Partners

The Tiny Surveyor from Position Partners is making a significant impact on pre-line marking jobs around the country increasing productivity, improving safety and reducing costs.

The $1.05 billion Northlink project in Perth, WA includes a new 37-kilometre highway from the intersection of the Tonkin and Reid Highways in Malaga to the Great Northern Highway at Muchea.

To ensure drivers can be safely directed along a new route, accurate line marking needs to be installed following the construction of the road.

Traditionally manual pre-marking of road lines saw workers exposed to live traffic on road sites for extended periods of time.

Exclusively distributed by Position Partners in Australia, the Tiny Surveyor is a tablet-controlled robot programmed to complete pre-line marking. The robot was introduced by the company in February 2018 as an alternative to manual line marking, helping reduce risks for workers on live traffic sites.

The three-wheeled Tiny Surveyor uses a GNSS receiver or total station from any manufacturer, like Topcon, Trimble or Leica, to accurately drive the unit and can work eight hours on a single charge.

In the sweltering heat, pre-line marking jobs can lead to body fatigue, an experience that Karl O’Toole, Position Partners Product Application Specialist knows all too well.

Mr. O’Toole explains he has performed pre-line marking jobs in 40-degree days on black asphalt roads and says that a safer solution was needed.

“Line marking is fairly repetitive and there is a lot of body strain for workers resulting in employees having sick days, which is one of the main issues with line marking,” Mr. O’Toole says.

As an alternative, the Tiny Surveyor is operated by a rugged tablet, which can be used in the rain and heat.

“An operator has to be in control of the robot at all times using the tablet.

“You can get up to 100 metres away from it before it will automatically stop until you’re back in safe working range,” Mr. O’Toole says.

It will operate after the user has uploaded design files for pre-marking locations. The Tiny Surveyor can be operated from a car or another safe location.

“Operators drive the robot from within the safety of a vehicle. There is usually one in front and behind the robot to ensure nothing interferes with its work,” Mr. O’Toole says.

“It also reduces business costs for road closure and traffic management as there are many equipment requirements for worker protection when manually marking lines.”

Mr. O’Toole says the second trial of the Tiny Surveyor saw a large truck come within about 40 metres of the machine. He says that this is when he realised the full safety potential of the machine as a person could have been in its place.

Time savings are another factor Mr. O’Toole attributes to the Tiny Surveyor’s appeal.

“The robot does not need to slow down and bend to mark the lines. It also does not need to walk back to a car after kilometres of marking, like a worker would,” he says.

Time is also saved by reducing the need for traffic management set-up and transfers.

“Essentially the robot eliminates human error. As long as the correct design is loaded in, it will mark out every point accurately the first time.

“It helps to save time additionally by reducing re-work due to human error. When I have done line marking, I’ve found it’s very easy to wander after hours in 40 degrees under a hot sun. It is easy to make mistakes,” Mr. O’Toole says.

Line marking, however, is not all the Tiny Surveyor is capable of. Being rugged, the robot can be used in a number of environments, including on gravel, sand and grass.

The biggest Australian project using a Tiny Surveyor is the $1.05 billion NorthLink project in Perth.

“The Tiny Surveyor was purchased to mark out various features, the centre lines, edge lines and also pedestrian paths, cycle paths and barrier lines. In total that single surveyor has done 520 kilometres of marking for the NorthLink,” Mr. O’Toole says.

He says Position Partners customers should have an open mind for the Tiny Surveyor’s capabilities on road projects as it isn’t restricted to pre-line marking.

“Every customer that has purchased a unit has used it for a different reason. They aren’t just using it for roads but for many other features as well,” Mr. O’Toole says.

As at October 2019, Position Partners have not had any faults with its Tiny Surveyors across Australia and New Zealand.

“We do carry at least one spare part for each component of every robot and the repairs are quite simple.

“If a motor in the wheel breaks, for example, we will replace the whole wheel and look at repairing it internally,” Mr. O’Toole says.

Low downtime and maintenance for repairs on the Tiny Surveyor is another benefit for companies. Operators only have to ensure the robot is clean, charged and has pumped the tyres for use.

“For big or small projects, the Tiny Surveyor is reducing costs for traffic management, increasing productivity and simplifying a straining manual job,” he says.

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