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'Little Buddy' making marks on athletic fields
Daniel Evans
Daniel Evans watches the Intelligent One GPS paint robot, nicknamed “Little Buddy”, line South Effingham’s football field for an Oct. 19 game against Brunswick. The robot greatly increases precision because it is guided by satellites. - photo by Mark Lastinger/staff
It does all the work. I just make sure he's got what he needs.
Daniel Evans, athletic fields maintenance technician

GUYTON — A new sports star is making a mark in Effingham County. Actually, it is making a lot of marks everywhere it goes.

Daniel Evans is using an autonomous robot to line football, softball and soccer fields in the Effingham County School District. He is the district’s athletic fields maintenance technician.

“It does all the work,” Evans said about the Intelligent One GPS paint robot. “I just make sure he’s got what he needs.”

The machine’s needs include occasional battery charges and refills of its paint tank. 

“I have two batteries,” Evans said recently at South Effingham High School. “Normally, I can do two (football) fields on a battery.”

The robot, nicknamed “Little Buddy,” has many advantages. Its primary selling point is that it provides major savings in labor and paint costs.

It typically takes a crew of three to five coaches several hours to paint a football field, creating the need to hire substitute teachers.  Evans said “Little Buddy,” using 60 percent less paint, can do the job in six hours without constant supervision.

Evans said the school district is leasing the robot for a trial period to make sure it would be worth purchasing. The manufacturer’s suggested retail price is $49,999.

The return on the investment, according to Intelligent One, is generally 12-18 months.

Precision is undoubtedly one of the robot’s benefits. Guided by satellites — it picked up 18 signals recently at South Effingham — it paints perfectly straight lines.

“I’ve seen as many as twenty-two satellites that it was picking up,” Evans said.

Currently, the robot isn’t used to paint midfield or end zone logos, however.

“It’s in the programming,” Evans said. “They are supposed to be implementing that in the future. It just hasn’t happened yet.

“It’s amazing what it will do.”

Evans said the robot is not difficult to use. 

“(Intelligent One) had a field rep guy come out here and he spent two days with me to teach me how to program it, and how to lay out a field. I picked it up pretty quick,” he said. “If you know anything about technology, you can pick it up pretty fast.”

After receiving the robot, Evans entered the geographic coordinates of each field in the district into an associated tablet. Now all it takes is the punch of a button to get “Little Buddy” to go to work.

Evans can manage the robot at any field from a single screen.

“Like this field, I’ve got it saved under ‘South Effingham High School stadium,’ ” he said. “I just select ‘football’ and turn it loose. If I was doing a soccer field, I would just select ‘soccer.’

“Basically, I just hit ‘play’ and it starts.”

Evans said it usually takes about 45 minutes for the robot to use a tankful of paint. He uses that time to complete other tasks.

“I take care of all the athletic fields (in the district) — from irrigation to fertilization, pesticide application and running the robot,” he explained.

Evans, husband of first-year South Effingham head softball coach Jessica Evans, said the 132-pound robot is quite sturdy and not knocked off course easily. It would paint right over things like mouthpieces that might be left on the field, he said.

“If hit something sturdier like a yard marker, you would get a bumper warning that it had contacted something and it would stop. I would get a warning at the top of the tablet.”

Evans said “Little Buddy” isn’t bothered much by the weather, either.

“I’ve also used it in the rain,” he said. “It didn’t affect it one bit.”

Softball coaches and players like painted lines better than chalk ones formerly used. The chalk mixes with the clay, causing it to become unsuitable for play.

“It changes the consistency,” Evans said. “It makes the soil powdery and where it won’t absorb water the same. It will really affect the way the ball bounces.”