AGVs: The future is now


Autonomous guided vehicles have come of age. Say hello to our ActiveShuttle.

Last year, we gave you a sneak preview of ActiveShuttle, our autonomous guided vehicle (AGV) that will deliver loads of up to 260kg on demand from a central store to an assembly point on the production line.

Since then, the technology has been both literally and figuratively ‘on the move’. We’ve been trialling it at our own plants, and it’s helped us with some fine-tuning. In particular, it’s made us more mindful of the working conditions. For instance, because it works alongside motorized trolleys, forklift trucks and humans (hybrid operation), and because it’s quite compact, we found ActiveShuttle needed to be made easier to spot, especially at intersections on the factory floor. 

Out of the box – and on the move

It’s very easy to set up. The first stage is to prepare for the IT integration at the manufacturing plant, and specifically with the server that will be managing the system.

ActiveShuttle then goes live. It performs two manual loops of its new home. The first is to scope the factory infrastructure so it can create its own internal map, and the second is to learn all the waypoints for its designated tasks. To do this, it uses our SLAM algorithm – that’s Simultaneous Localization and Mapping. It can then be told whether it should chart its way down the middle of the route, or on the right or left. Finally, a task is assigned around a specific order – and off it goes.

The system’s onboard capability gives it the flexibility to learn for itself. For instance, the dynamic map update feature incorporates changes in the environment – perhaps a new obstacle has appeared somewhere on the factory floor – so an AGV will note it and inform the ActiveShuttle Management System (AMS), which will in turn alert all the others, maintaining accurate, fleet-wide localization, reducing human intervention, and making movement around the production environment safer.

Low cost of entry

This autonomous transport system can easily be adopted by smaller manufacturers. You don’t need a large fleet of AGVs to make it practical, and the set-up investment is low. There’s a straightforward return-on-investment (ROI) calculator that can demonstrate the benefits.

The ROI isn’t only to be found in net cost savings: ActiveShuttle increases production flexibility and productivity too. 

Watch this space for further news about smart AGVs. And watch the floor of your local manufacturing production facilities, too: you may just see a busy little delivery unit bustling by, on a mission.

Author:  Stefan Ruhrmann
Job title: Head of Customer Application, Project Team AGV

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