A New Path to Safely Managing Vegetation
For a utility or utility services company, vegetation management is a never-ending exercise, whether it’s clearing normal growth, hazard trees, or dealing with fallen trees in the aftermath of a storm.
Occupational hazards are a regular part of this trade. Crews work in all weather conditions and use powered trade tools around active power transmission lines to clear vegetation. Climbing to and working at height is common to maintain overhead power lines, with workers often being lifted over 50 feet in bucket trucks.
Unfortunately, these conditions significantly increase the potential for occupational injuries or fatalities, as well as service downtime and cost. Research has shown that almost two-thirds (63%) of shoulder injuries are caused by overexertion, causing a median of 27 days off work to recover. Falling from height and overexertion are among the five most disabling and costly types of injury across all industries.
Vegetation management can easily be the largest preventative operations and maintenance expenditure for a utility. To mitigate the human hazards, utility companies have turned to integrated vegetation management programs and herbicides to ensure reliable electric service and address the risk of wildfires.
Now, there is also a human-operated robotic solution to combat injury- or fatigue-related downtime and minimize or even eliminate humans doing at-height work. It’s called the Guardian XT robot, and the net result is improved safety and increased productivity.
Advantages of Teleoperated Vegetation Management
The Guardian XT highly dexterous, teleoperated robotic system eliminates the need to put humans in dangerous at-height work situations. Send the robot up to trim branches around active transmission lines with off-the-shelf power tools and control the entire task remotely.
The robot is a single or dual-armed system that can be affixed to various mounts, including bucket trucks and other lifts. Advantages and capabilities of the Guardian XT robot include:
- Isolates workers, through teleoperation, from physically exhausting tasks and dangerous proximity to energized power lines
- Crew members use highly dexterous robotic arms, hands, and torso with actuated joints (or degrees of freedom/DOF) for enhanced job completion from a safe distance
- Increases productivity by helping to reduce crew size and to enable workers on the ground to perform at-height work
- Eliminates strain on body parts most prone to injury from vibration, repetitive motion, and heavy physical exertion, including shoulders, back, and wrists
- Conveys situational awareness to remote operators through visual, vibrotactile, and force-reflective feedback
- Offers near-continuous operation with hot-swappable DC battery modules (optional AC supply)
- Enables sustained lifting of up to 100 pounds (45 kg) per arm — sufficient for trade tools
The Guardian XT robot’s dexterous robotic hands can manipulate off-the-shelf tools like pole saws and hot sticks. A crew member remotely controls the robotic avatar system from the ground or a remote location, cutting and clearing away vegetation from a safe working distance.
The crew operator maneuvers the robot and base with real-time situational awareness of the robot’s surroundings via the SenSuit™ wearable controller system. Through customer-specified integration, the mobile base and lift platform (i.e., raise, extend, retract, and lower the boom) can be integrated with the Guardian XT controller.
Applications in Vegetation Management Programs
At Sarcos, we understand the importance of minimizing occupational hazards while maximizing productivity to keep vegetation from interfering with the delivery of utilities and services to customers. We have worked with utility companies in natural conditions to test and refine the Guardian XT robot’s capabilities.
The Guardian XT robot was developed to integrate into existing utility bucket trucks equipped to cut limbs, branches, and trunks. In extreme weather or disaster, we know that maintenance workers may need to clear vegetation before transmission line personnel can come in. Live, downed cables create an even greater danger to vegetation management crews.
While contact with an energized power line is the No. 1 risk in the power utility service industry, mitigation through vegetation management is the only way to significantly decrease tree-caused service interruptions. The goal of the Guardian XT robot is to afford workers ample working clearance from live electricity and other hazards presented by overhead powerlines.
Our mission is to build robots to assist, not replace humans. By keeping crew members out of harm’s way, the Guardian XT robot is designed to boost per-worker output and help utility and maintenance companies retain their workforce as hiring rates decrease. Compounded with the aging-out of skilled workers, we know that utilities are incented to extend the careers of valuable, experienced team members.
Future of Vegetation Management Workforce and RaaS
Teleoperated robotic machinery is poised to become the next best practice employed by utility companies and others who maintain rights of way where hazardous vegetation presents a threat to people, structures, and roadways.
Along with the benefits of using new applications like artificial intelligence, machine learning, and geospatial tools, the modeled cost savings of using emerging technologies like robotics shows great promise compared to the cost of worker injury claims, labor shortages, and utility outages. Innovative business model offerings like Robot as a Service (RaaS) — in which companies lease robotics through a subscription-based service model — enable companies to shift capital expenditures to operating expenses, as well.
Other advantages of RaaS include:
- Enables organizations to quickly scale up or down in response to changing market conditions and client needs
- Allows organizations of all sizes to leverage robotic technology through lower cost of entry
- Includes the convenience of ongoing maintenance, support, and software upgrades
Sarcos Technology and Robotics Corporation designs, develops, and manufactures a broad range of advanced mobile robotic systems that redefine human possibilities and are designed to enable the safest most productive workforce in the world. Sarcos robotic systems operate in challenging, unstructured, industrial environments and include teleoperated robotic systems, a powered robotic exoskeleton, and software solutions that enable task autonomy