Scientists are working to develop new fleets of autonomous ‘self-optimising’ forklift trucks which will be able to operate alongside humans.
The new development will mean that forklifts will operate safely and efficiently in warehouses alongside humans, and automatically adapt to changing work demands.
The goal of the project, a multinational collaboration between robotics specialists in the UK, Sweden, Italy and Germany, is to enable the deployment of next-generation automated guided vehicles (AGVs) into current warehouse facilities to support tasks such as packing, palletising and transporting goods.
The four-year project, called Intra-Logistics with Integrated Automatic Deployment (ILIAD), is funded with a major grant of €7m from the EU’s Horizon 2020 project.
The consortium is led by Örebro University in Sweden, and includes University of Lincoln, UK, University of Pisa, Italy, and Leibniz University, Germany.
Working with major industry partners such as Bosch, Kollmorgen Automation, ACT Operations Research, Logistic Engineering Services and Orkla Foods, ILIAD will deliver significant technological advances into a single integrated system ready for easy, low-cost development and without the need for major infrastructure investments.
A key requirement is that each robot is ‘human aware’ – equipped with advanced computer vision and artificial intelligence to track and detect human behaviour and plan movements based on the machine’s own observations.
Crucially, each vehicle will be self-optimising, learning from self-collected data over time, making the fleets fully scalable with the option of adding or removing robots at any time.
Professor Tom Duckett, director of the Lincoln Centre for Autonomous Systems (L-CAS) at University of Lincoln and a principal investigator on the ILIAD project, said: “Our goal is to deliver an economical, flexible robotic solution that can be easily deployed and integrated into current warehouse facilities and which guarantees efficient and safe operation in environments shared with humans.”
They will also develop qualitative models for human-robot spatial interaction, systems architecture and systems integration.
The work will include experimental testing at University of Lincoln.