Large logos and autonomous robots: Pixelrunner

ARTI logo printed by Pixelrunner © Pixelrunner GmbH

Logos on the landscape – large and eye-catching advertising

Large-scale prints of logos or messages on grass, asphalt, or even snow are very much in demand since they serve as a great form of advertising or as an effective decoration at events. Until now, this type of advertising was mainly done at football games and sporting events such as runs or ski races, where professional cameras are used for aerial photography.

With the further spread of photo drones, aerial shots are now easier to take, and landscape printing as a marketing tool is becoming more and more attractive.

The Pixelrunner GmbH from Engerwitzdorf specializes in this type of outdoor advertising and offers an exact, automated, and fully digital printing process using patented spray technology.

Pixelrunner company logo © Pixelrunner GmbH

About Pixelrunner – “Land Art becomes Brand Art”

Pixelrunner GmbH was founded in 2016 out of the Softwarepark Hagenberg and won the Young Entrepreneur Award the following year. Since then, the team of 5 has already implemented some spectacular projects, such as the Erste Bank/Sparkasse advertising campaign during the Vienna City Marathon 2022, which featured a vast #glaubandich lettering across the entire Reichsbrücke. For the Marathon in Berlin, Pixelrunner has been printing the logo on the lawn in front of the Siegessäule for several years now.

Landscape printing using the traditional method is a very time-consuming affair. First, before printing, scaled templates have to be produced. Then, the printing area has to be measured very precisely. And finally, the images have to be transferred to the surface by hand with the help of templates.

With Pixelrunner, however, this entire process, from the processing of the graphics utilizing a specially developed software solution to the application of the logo, is automated and can therefore be carried out much more quickly than landscape printing using the conventional method. This is particularly advantageous when printing on roads, as these are only ever closed for traffic for a short period of time prior to events. Furthermore, the logo can be easily removed from the road after the event, thanks to biodegradable ink.

#glaubandich – lettering at the Vienna City Marathon ©

Pixelrunner and ARTI – a successful technological challenge

But what does large-scale landscape printing have to do with a software start-up for mobile autonomous robots?

The answer is quite simple: the logo printing itself is done autonomously with the robot “Pixelrunner Mk2” according to SAE 2, and at a speed of about 30 m2/minute. We at ARTI supported Pixelrunner GmbH in giving the robot the precision in localization/positioning and the stability in driving behaviour necessary to apply such large-area graphics (800m2 and larger!) precisely to the surface.

The “Pixelrunner Mk22 Printing Robot © Pixelrunner GmbH

The task given to ARTI was to improve outdoor line following over large areas, using positioning that was not GPS-based. During the development, the general conditions of the printing process had to be considered. For example, personnel must monitor the vehicle during printing, the system must be usable worldwide, the operation must be simple and intuitive and the printing area must be scalable as desired.

The challenges ARTI was presented with for the Pixelrunner project included different and uneven surfaces (grass, snow, asphalt, parchment), alternating weather conditions, control of a track-driven vehicle as well as the arbitrary expansion of the printable area. ARTI’s chief developer Alexander Buchegger describes the task given to ARTI by Pixelrunner:

“With Pixelrunner, the aim was to develop an alternative navigation system to the GPS-based one. The vehicle can be used in areas where GPS does not work or does not work accurately enough. The big challenge here is to locate the robot within a few centimeters in uneven terrain, without good reference objects, and to navigate the vehicle so accurately.”


The technical implementation of positioning is carried out using a SLAM approach combined with an Ouster OS1-16 Layer LiDAR scanner on the vehicle and other landmarks if necessary. SLAM stands for Simultaneous Localization and Mapping and is a complex technology that allows the robot to construct or update a map of an unknown environment while at the same time defining and registering its location within that same map. With Pixelrunner, we took this already intricate technology even further, and rather than using the SLAM approach in 2D, we developed a vastly more detailed, state-of-the-art 3D version. This creates an immense difference in the data collected and allows for an even more precise definition of the environment.

Positioning of the robot using SLAM

In addition, control and sequence tests and various alternations like repositioning markers, print changes or software updates are run through the digital twin in a 3D simulation. This completely transforms the testing phase and makes it drastically less work and time intensive compared to real-world testing. Furthermore, the simulation allows the testing of various scenarios and print sizes, which ultimately helps us recognize errors and faulty conditions before they occur in reality. All this contributes to more efficiency and results in a higher-quality final product.

3D Simulation – digital twin

Raphael Hoheneder, the ARTI expert for outdoor navigation, adds:

“In the Pixelrunner project, we implemented the localization employing LiDAR as well as the precise tracing of parallel lines for printing and developed the interfaces to the hardware and the user application. The biggest challenges were stabilizing the localization and the speed, so that clean and smooth driving is possible.”


The challenges from the Pixelrunner perspective

One of the biggest challenges on the Pixelrunner side is the constantly changing environment for every new printing job. The team tries to get an overview in advance via satellite images, but this is only possible to a limited extent. In addition, there are external factors such as weather and light conditions.

Since time pressure usually also plays a significant role, there is not enough time for a typical deployment routine and the corresponding setup, calibration, and positioning of markers.

For Pixelrunner, the following applies quite clearly: The print has top priority. Therefore, no stops may occur during the printing process, as they could negatively influence the result. The robot must therefore be able to run through its printing paths undisturbed.

Pixelrunner managing director Simon Novy says:

“ARTI’s system enables us to use our technology everywhere – independent of the available GPS signal. We especially appreciate ARTI’s continuous development of the system and professional input. Together we are working on further automating the printing process.”


About ARTI Software – “Make things moving!”

The cooperation with Pixelrunner was a technologically exciting challenge for us at ARTI since it demanded high precision and smooth driving behaviour. We have mastered that challenge and once again proved the excellent applicability of our AI software in the outdoor sector.

The ARTI control software for mobile autonomous robots is characterized by its flexible applicability for various use cases. The software has a modular structure independent of environmental factors and vehicle characteristics. As a result, countless use cases that focus on the locomotion of ground-based robotic vehicles can be solved quickly and easily.

Outdoor environments like those in the Pixelrunner project, which are already very different from indoor environments due to natural conditions such as uneven ground or changing light conditions, remain a challenging and complex topic in autonomous robotics.

At ARTI, it is precisely projects like this that we enjoy doing the most. They allow us to ideally use our in-house developed AI software modules (AI Kits,) combined with the knowledge of and experience in robotics to develop innovative new products with our customers and improve existing ones. Staying true to our motto, “Make things moving!”, we literally want to set things in motion and thrive on innovation and automation.

Drone shot of the ARTI logo printed by Pixelrunner © Pixelrunner GmbH

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Hi folks, my name is Robi and I have the honor to keep you up to date with the latest information about events, stories and technical innovations @ ARTI.
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