JLG partners with RE2 to create robotic lifts for solar field construction

Computer-generated rendition of a robotic lift, created through the partnership of JLG and RE2 Robotics, assembling solar panels.

JLG Industries has announced a developmental partnership with RE2 Robotics, a leading developer of intelligent robotic mobile manipulation systems.

The collaboration of these two market leading companies is intended to advance the integration of robotics with access equipment to deliver improved operator safety and enhanced productivity on job sites.

“Robotic technologies have long been used in a variety of industries,” says Frank Nerenhausen, Oshkosh Corporation executive vice president and president, JLG Industries. “The productivity imperative, along with the COVID-19 pandemic have accelerated the need for and adoption of robotic technologies beyond the factory floor. In fact, a large focal area in construction and industrial applications today is remote operation of equipment that keeps workers out of harm’s way.”

Nerenhausen continues, “While JLG has been leveraging and developing robotics in specific areas of our business for quite some time, our focus has shifted to developing and incorporating solutions that integrate with our lifts to help offset labor shortages and provide assistive technologies to a now 5-generation workforce. The relationship with RE2 allows us to partner with an organization who has the same drive for excellence as JLG, enabling us to accelerate the integration of robotics across our product line to move the access industry forward.”

RE2 was recently awarded a project by the U.S. Department of Energy to develop a robotic solar field construction system for the outdoor autonomous manipulation of photovoltaic panels.

The RE2 Sapien 6M robotic arm, along with RE2 Detect and RE2 Intellect software are being integrated with a JLG aerial work platform to support the transfer, lifting and placement of the photovoltaic modules.

JLG is supplying engineering support during the technology development phase of the project.

Joint work is being completed on the mechanical and control system interface between the robotic arm and the lift. The resulting integration will provide the foundation for the robotic solar field construction system.

Skilled workers will supervise the robotic solar field construction system, which uses computer vision to autonomously retrieve solar panels from a delivery vehicle and precisely place the panels onto a racking system.

An onsite worker then follows to secure the panel. The RE2 Sapien intelligent robotic arm offers a high strength-to-weight ratio, precise control and human-like dexterity to place the burden of the heavy lifting on the robotic system. This system is expected to significantly improve productivity and reduce the amount of time required to construct a solar field.

“The future of work is here,” says Jorgen Pedersen, RE2’s President and CEO. “Humans and robots are working more closely together, and the construction industry is no exception. Our developmental partnership with JLG will enable us to apply our proven robotic technology to specific applications, including those that require working at height and repetitive lifting such as solar field construction.”

“Developmental partnerships, acquisitions and organic product innovation serve as the three core pillars of our growth philosophy. When combined, they facilitate our ability to remain agile and accelerate the development of the future technologies that will advance the construction industry,” says Nerenhausen. “Our work with RE2 Robotics is an excellent example of how we are driving progress with companies who are experts and leaders in their respective fields.”

According to Nerenhausen and Pedersen, a concept machine is forthcoming, with demonstrations planned to gather additional feedback in the near future.