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Bringing the Future to Life

Occasional Contributor

For autonomous guided vehicles, the best is yet to come – and it’s coming soon.

Literally and figuratively, autonomous guided vehicles (AGVs) have been on the move for 20 years – but the world of industry is about to see them shift up a gear.

At Bosch Rexroth, we’ve been working with customers and with OEMs to develop intelligent new laser localization software that interacts with lidar technology to create non-intrusive 3D maps of the factory floor. We’ve also been road-testing it at our own plants.

Using the software and sensors, the AGV builds and stores its own spatial memory, so it always knows where it is. It’s as though it’s guiding itself via landmarks, as people might do. Before, these vehicles were feeling their way; now, it’s as though they can see.

What’s more, they can share what they see – so if, for example, a forklift is blocking the path of one AGV, it can communicate this to its peers, so other vehicles can take a different route.

Going to market now…

At LogiMAT in February 2019, we’ll be launching the software in two ways.

Firstly, the software will be used in our ActiveShuttle – an AGV that delivers components in boxes on demand from a ‘super market’ to an assembly point on the production line. It acts like a taxi service.

And secondly, established industrial OEMs and manufacturers of forklift machinery can take advantage of the technology to build intelligence into their equipment.

We believe the approach we’re taking will be of interest to smaller manufacturers in particular. Their R&D budgets may be smaller than those of larger enterprises, but when key components are made both accessible and affordable, they can take them and use them to create new, fast and flexible solutions.

… and in the future

The Factory of the Future is by definition both intelligent and flexible, so AGVs will be a big part of it. For example, they’ll be able to ‘swarm’: fleets of vehicles will be able to act with one mind to deliver macro productivity benefits. 

Teamwork will increase. For instance, if an AGV is needed to transport a load, the system won’t simply assign the nearest available vehicle, but the one that has the best loading capacity or energy consumption for the task in hand.

Path planning will be optimized, too. Right now, AGVs are driving fixed routes, but with the developments we’re launching at LogiMAT and with others yet to come, that will no longer be the case.

Another factor to consider is that it won’t just be the AGVs that are in motion. Production equipment will be modular, so it can be moved around the factory floor to create new topologies specific to needs, such as unexpected increases in volume requirements, or an urgent new order for a bespoke short run. When only the fabric of the building is fixed, all assets are expected to adapt to continuous change – and they will easily rise to that challenge.

New destinations

We’re really looking forward to putting our latest technology on public view at LogiMAT. People will be able to see how easy it is to integrate it into their own applications. They’ll also see how affordable, safe and dependable it is. We’re making these concepts real.

In a way, you might say we’re guiding AGVs to new destinations.

 

Author:  Thomas Fechner
Job Title: Senior VP, Product Area New Business

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