AGV Robots, also known as Automated Guided Vehicles (or just AGVs), have come a long way since their early beginnings in the 1950s. From simple, single-task robots that follow magnetic tape or a wire on the floor to modern, multi-functional machines with complex navigations systems, AGV robots have evolved significantly over the years and now offer many advantages to businesses contending with rising labor costs and worker scarcity.
In this article, we explore five of the ways that AGV robots have matured. With these advancements in technology, AGV robots are becoming increasingly popular for automating logistical tasks in warehouses, factories, and distribution centers.
Navigation – obstacle avoidance and autonomous rerouting
How AGV robots navigate is the most fundamental aspect of their change. Traditional AGVs traveled exclusively along predefined routes, typically following magnetic tape or other types of lines demarcated on the floor. This is still true of many AGV robots today. Using this earlier method, the plant operator must create the pathways by applying magnetic tape to the surface of – or embedding wires into – the floor, or attaching beacons to walls or fixed equipment. With such technology, when the AGV robot encounters an obstacle, it will slow down or stop and call for help. A human must come to the rescue and clear the AGVs path before it can continue. In a dynamic environment like a warehouse or factory, in which vehicles are moving around all the time, and pieces of packaging are frequently discarded, the inability to avoid obstructions is a significant drawback.
On the other hand, modern AGV robots, often called Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs), store a map of the facility in their navigation system. With this sophisticated technology, AMRs can swerve around obstacles in their path if it is safe to do so. If a minor path correction isn’t enough, the AMR robot can plot out an entirely new route to its destination. Vecna’s differentiated approach to navigation is focused on advanced localization and path planning, which we believe are the most efficient and safe way to move raw materials faster and optimize automated throughput.
In studies done by Vecna Robotics, 80% of trips taken by their AMRs involved using obstacle avoidance. Without the ability to circumvent obstructions, an employee would have had to clear all those blockages, taking them away from more important responsibilities and limiting the usefulness of the AGV.
For more on the distinctions between AGVs and AMRs, see the white paper: Everything you need to know about AMR and AGV Navigation and why it matters.
A suite of sensors – better safety and navigation system
Yesterday’s AGV robots had a limited number and type of sensors, typically proximity sensors that told the machine there was something – the AGV wouldn’t know what – was in the way.
Today’s AGV robots have a complex navigation systems that include wide range of sensors that operate together. Modern AMRs combine multiple vision and LiDAR (laser) sensors for full 3D sensor fusion perception. This eye-like perception allows the Vecna AGV robots to navigate in high-traffic and unpredictable environments with confidence. Along with these sensors Vecna added a three-tiered safety architecture that exceeds ANSI B56.5, RIA 15.08, safety standards, and allows for both adaptive safety fields and intelligent, safe path planning.
Interoperability between AGVs and other robots
MassRobotics, an independent non-profit, recently released the MassRobotics Interoperability Standard to allow robots from different vendors to seamlessly interact. Vecna Robotics was one of the first participants in these standards, and offers an autonomous tugger, forklift and pallet truck that are AMR Interop certified and are now being tested cooperatively with other robots at a Fedex Ground location. Such interoperability means that a warehouse that has been using a pick and place robotic system from one vendor can use a pallet truck from another vendor. Not only can the robots pass off goods from one to the other, they can also exchange information. The data can be displayed on a share dashboard and allows the facility operator to see a real time overview of the functioning of their robot fleet.
Collaboration with people
In the past, many employers instructed their people to stay out of the way of AGVs. Walking on the magnetic tape that defines the AGV’s route can wear it out, and given the limited sensors of the AGV robots, it was best to remain out of harm’s way.
Today, modern AGV robots work closely with people. User-friendly interfaces, enhanced safety features, and obstacle avoidance mean humans can interact with the AGVs in ways previously unthinkable. A future of wearables-enabled workers engaging fluidly with a WMS system and pallet-handling AGVs is closer than you think.
Cloud-enabled artificial intelligence means more possibilities
With the advancement in integrated circuitry and software, AGV robots have become more capable and require almost no human intervention to run efficiently. Now connected to the cloud, these machines have their software updated regularly with little-to-no downtime. And the network effect of the cloud allows for all robots within a facility –– or in Vecna’s case, all robots in their fleet! –– to benefit from their combined intelligence, fostering an environment of true continuous improvement. As a result, at Vecna, we like to say that each individual robot has the combined equivalent know-how of thousands of experienced robot operators.
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