By SCOTT YOFFE
for the Illinois Business Journal
Edwardsville’s Glen-Ed Soccer Club has poured its faith, and paint, into a unique four-wheeled partner to help it keep its fields painted for the 35 teams and 500-plus kids that comprise the Club’s makeup.
It’s called a Turf Tank, a first-of-its-kind autonomous, GPS-guided robot, built and designed specifically for painting athletic fields.
For Rob Landers and his counterparts on the operations team at Glen-Ed, long gone are the days of having to spend hours on end lining, stringing and painting the Club’s eight fields and its grass parking lot.
“Turf Tank really has been a game changer,” explained Landers. “It’s fast and extremely accurate with its lines and what it really does is frees us up to do other work on the fields while the robot is taking care of the lines.”
The Turf Tank robot is about the size of a mini refrigerator. It weighs in the neighborhood of 135 pounds with a full load of paint and its battery installed.
On its own and controlled by a tablet with Turf Tank’s proprietary software, one robot can paint a full soccer field in roughly 25 minutes. Without one, it would normally take Landers and one to two others anywhere from 2-3 hours to line and paint each individual field.
And Turf Tanks don’t just paint soccer fields. They can also paint fields for football, baseball, softball, lacrosse and others, and the robots even have the ability to paint logos and numbers.
For Glen-Ed, which in recent months hosted its Spring Kickoff and its annual Father’s Day 3v3 Tournament, the robot saved an immense amount of time as its fields were in constant use.
“With all the Club’s recent activity, it’s seemed like we’ve had players out on the fields just about every day,” said Landers. “We used to have to go out and paint and touch up the fields manually but it’s a much simpler process now that the Turf Tank can do that for us.”
St. Louis’ Major League Soccer Club, St. Louis City, also reached out to Landers to borrow Glen Ed’s Turf Tank when the Club was first getting started.
And while much has been made recently about robot technology taking away jobs that’s not the case with the Turf Tank.
“The labor shortage has made it challenging to find employees who are willing to spend hours on end out in the sun painting fields, especially during the warm Illinois summer months,” added Landers.
Turf tanks are both eco- and environmentally-friendly. They are powered by rechargeable batteries and because of their precision and accuracy, the robots use significantly less paint and eliminate the overspray that is common with either painting by hand or using many of the older paint machines and sprayers. Cleaning a Turf Tank is also an easy process, done simply by running water through the paint system, which further reduces the impact on the environment.
Currently, Turf Tank deploys more than 1,400 robots to paint athletic fields across the United States and more than 1,900 globally. And the company was recently named as one of the Most Innovative Robotics companies of 2023 by a global publication.
Launched in 2015, Turf Tank is based in Svenstrup, Denmark, a small city just outside of the third-largest city in Denmark. The company has U.S. offices in Marietta, Georgia and Omaha, Nebraska and a sales force that covers the entire country.
“Our robot has revolutionized the sports field-painting industry,” said Mikkel Jacobsen, CEO of Turf Tank. “We help turf managers around the world create professional fields, efficiently and cost effectively.”
Guided by GPS, the Turf Tank uses a base station to ensure its accuracy. The base station becomes a fixed point from which the robot knows where to paint every time it is dispatched. The way it works is the base station speaks to satellites via GPS to ensure the accuracy of the field dimensions. Once a user installs a particular field layout, it becomes a simple drag and drop process through the tablet. And from there, it’s as simple as setting one to four points on each particular field to give the robot a starting point and then the robot will paint that field autonomously.
Turf Tank is continuing to innovate with its latest generation of line-marking software, which is enhancing the robot’s usability and boosting the efficiency of the line marking process. It improves the overall user experience and enables them to complete their tasks with greater speed and ease by simply tapping a few buttons, giving turf managers greater flexibility and complete control over every aspect of the line marking process. Turf Tank also has implemented text and logo functionality into its robots.
Besides the Glen-Ed Soccer Club, count Edwardsville High School, Alton Parks and Rec and University City High School among other users of the Turf Tank in the region.
Visit online at https://turftank.com/us/ for more information about Turf Tank.
This story also appears in the July 2023 print edition of the Illinois Business Journal.