Featured NewsProduct NewsLIDARCompany Profile: LightWare LiDAR


6 March 2023

By Regardt van Der Berg, LightWare LiDAR

Here's a customer story...

Specialized Robotics Solutions (SRS), located in Easton, Illinois, was established in 2021, when Nathan Wagle and Don Onken joined forces to develop autonomous robotic solutions for various outdoor activities.

The idea originated during Wagle’s senior year in college, where he was pursuing an engineering degree. At the time, he was employed by a landfill company that sought to automate the surface emission monitoring process. Wagle saw this as an excellent opportunity to enter the robotics field and pitched the idea to local businessman Don Onken, the founder of Onken Incorporated, a major player in the oil and grease recycling industry. Wagle and Onken shared a passion for innovation and automation, making it a mutually beneficial partnership.

Today, Specialized Robotic Solutions offer high-quality robotic archery targets, autonomous mowing platforms, customizable solutions for hauling heavy loads and moving small trailers, and security-based applications.

The heart of SRS's robotic platform is a 4WD autonomous rover driven by four independent 24v motors, with a battery life of up to 14 hours. The rover's large wheelbase, available in 22 to 26-inch configurations, with tires ranging from six to 13 inches, makes it capable of handling any terrain. The rover can carry up to 250 pounds on top, or with a trailer or pin hitch it can pull heavy payloads of up to 1,200 pounds.

The Problem

Even though SRS makes the autonomous rover for sale on its website, SRS also uses the rover for field services, such as monitoring surface emissions in landfills. The traditional process of monitoring surface emissions is arduous and treacherous, requiring a human to carry 50 to 60 pounds of hardware and taking 40 to 60 hours a week to complete. With the rover, the process is streamlined, automated, and safer. SRS also uses the rover in remote-controlled and automated archery targets that return to the shooter after long-range shots. The rover even simulates moving animals in shooting scenarios.

Despite its capability to traverse rough terrain, SRS faced challenges in ensuring the rover's safe operation in areas with people, vehicles, and other obstacles. The engineers tried touch sensors, ultrasonic sensors, and radar but found that these technologies were not effective in the field. Ultrasonic sensors only detected obstacles 75% of the time, and touch sensors were insufficient for field use. Radar was useful for mapping around trees and large obstacles, but it couldn't account for moving variables.

“While we can map around stationary objects like trees and big obstacles quite easily, the one thing that we cannot account for is the moving variables. If something were to drive in front of the rover, like a truck, we wanted the safety mechanism in place to avoid the obstacle,” says Wagle. “This is where LightWare’s solution really blew us away.”

The Solution

Specialized Robotic Solutions explored LiDAR and tried 360-degree and 180-degree sensors from two other brands but could not get the performance and functionality they expected from the hardware.

The third time was the charm, as SRS found its ideal LiDAR sensor in the LightWare SF45/B, a 320-degree oscillating microLiDAR.

LightWare SF45/B

According to Wagle, "The SF45/B is the best LiDAR we found for our purposes."

The quality of the LightWare LiDAR sensors was impressive, but what won SRS over was the exceptional technical support from LightWare's engineers.

“Whenever we had issues with something we wanted to do, the support engineers at LightWare were quick to assist with custom code. Just about everything we could ask for in a LiDAR company is what we get with LightWare,” says Wagle. “We are also very impressed by the hardware, in fact, the SF45/B’s readings were so accurate that we asked LightWare to revise some of the code to decrease the sensitivity just a little bit. The LightWare engineering team impressed us every step of the way.”

The team at SRS customized the microLiDAR further by limiting the LiDAR's sweeps to 45 degrees on either side, focusing only on the front of the rover, for more reliable measurements between the two front motors. The LightWare SF45/B helps SRS's autonomous vehicles navigate around stationary and moving obstacles on any treacherous terrain.

Beyond the hardware itself, Wagle says the real value they get when purchasing LightWare LiDAR is in the overall interaction with the business and the engineering team that helps them solve their problems.

The Outcome

With a proven track record of success on challenging terrains, the autonomous rover from Specialized Robotic Solutions is now poised to make an impact in the mining and gas pipeline industry.

The team, led by Wagle, plans to use the rover for various applications such as surveying and monitoring. To further solidify their position in the market, SRS intends to significantly increase their fleet of gas emission monitoring rovers to cover hundreds of additional landfill sites throughout the United States.

For those seeking a reliable partner in their endeavors, LightWare offers a team of technical support engineers who view themselves as customer success engineers. Partner with LightWare today.

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