Swarm intelligence for autonomous intralogistics vehicles

Swarm intelligence for autonomous intralogistics vehicles

Technology News |
By Christoph Hammerschmidt

In order to cope with the continuously increasing parcel masses in online logistics centres, the LoadRunner should be of help to retailers in the future. The driverless transport vehicle can sort objects and transport them from A to B at a speed of up to ten metres per second. “The vehicles can accelerate like a sports car and are entering a whole new performance class,” emphasises Prof. Michael ten Hompel, Executive Director of the Fraunhofer IML in Dortmund (Germany).

The transport robot works in a swarm system. The basis for this was a swarm of drones that the researchers at Fraunhofer IML had previously developed. Here, 20 drones imitate the behaviour of a flock of birds. The individual drones orientate themselves on the behaviour of their neighbours and continuously adjust their flight direction and speed. Collisions are avoided, groups are formed and the interactions of the individual decisions result in a swarm intelligence that does not require central coordination. The swarm system uses simulation-based artificial intelligence methods.

The LoadRunner is equipped with an omnidirectional chassis, and the direction of travel and rotation are completely independent of each other. This means that the new transport vehicle can also turn in any direction during travel without having to manoeuvre. The robots orient themselves with the help of an on-board ground camera. This camera takes 400 frames per second of the previously scanned ground. This enables the vehicle to locate itself precisely even at high speed in tight formation drives.

As a single vehicle, the LoadRunner is able to transport parcels weighing up to 30 kilograms. This also makes the vehicle suitable for transporting luggage at airports. For heavier objects, the AI runners work together and thus enable the transport of large and bulky objects. In addition, each LoadRunner can couple up to four passive trailers. Four electric motors drive the LoadRunner. In order to deliver the transported load, the vehicle brakes at the right moment shortly before reaching its destination. This causes the delivered object to slide from the robot onto the delivery surface.

Fraunhofer IML tested the LoadRunnner for parcel sorting – with promising results: With about 60 vehicles, 13,000 consignments per hour can be processed. This means that 60 LoadRunners already reach performance levels of classic sorting systems. The great advantage of the new type of transport vehicle is that, in contrast to conventional sorting systems, it requires much less permanently installed infrastructure and can be put into operation more quickly.

Thanks to artificial intelligence, the LoadRunner can accept and process orders independently. This is another reason why the vehicle is a revolution for logistics. In the future, the LoadRunners will communicate securely via 5G and independently conclude pay-per-use contracts using blockchain.

The transport vehicle is currently being further developed at Fraunhofer IML. They are currently working on the implementation of an outdoor LoadRunner. “Thanks to 5G technology, the vehicle can also be used outdoors. Based on the technology of the indoor LoadRunner, the outdoor LoadRunner could move between warehouses on a company’s premises via mobile radio, for example,” says Fraunhofer scientist Moritz Roidl.

To exploit the potential of this technology, an open digital infrastructure like the Silicon Economy is needed. In the Silicon Economy, the digital platform economy of the future, swarms of vehicles will organise themselves and communicate with people, other swarms and platforms to fulfil their mission. With the research project “Silicon Economy Logistics Ecosystem (SELE)”, Fraunhofer IML wants to help a decentralised and open platform economy achieve a breakthrough in Germany and Europe. The German Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI) is funding the project over a period of three years with a total of around 25 million euros. In addition to Fraunhofer IML, project partners include the Fraunhofer Institute for Software and Systems Engineering ISST and the Technical University of Dortmund.

More information can be found here.

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