Smart Warehouse Logistics project makes use of Driver-less Vehicles with Basler Time-of-Flight 3D Cameras

Current driver-less vehicles are very limited having to follow certain routes and not having the capacity to react flexibly to change. For example, if a barrier were to be encountered the autonomous vehicle would be forced into making an emergency stop. If an object is not located precisely, where it would be expected to be, then the vehicle would be unable to take any further action. Another disadvantage is that these vehicles require extensive orientation aids, such as magnetic sensors or marked pathways along the floor to understand their current location.

To date driver-less transport systems have been very time-intensive and expensive to set up. The introduction of Industry 4.0 brings promise of new approaches and ways of providing machines with the innate human ability to orient themselves and understand simple commands. Earlier this year at Hannover Messe 2016, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi), Germany presented their work on ‘driverless transport vehicles’.

Intelligent Reach Trucks

The driver-less ‘reach trucks’ developed as part of the research project are veryreachtruck1 intelligent and learn to orient and adapt themselves based on their environment. They begin by taking part in an initial human guided tour of the facility to note all aspects of their environment. Communication with the vehicle is easily done using speech or gesture commands, easily commanding the vehicle. If a warehouse worker were to issue a command such as “Store this pallet on shelf 3”, the vehicle can interpret both the spoken word and any associated gesture. It can then reliably identify the desired pallet and perform the requested storage, fetching or re-positioning task without the need of human intervention.

The experimental technology can be used for identifying transportable goods and permitting them to be picked, transported and deposited at their destination through smart autonomous reach trucks. The vehicles are very easy to operate meaning one single warehouse worker can control multiple vehicles at once.

3D Time of Flight camera technology

Time-of-flight camera technology provides an effective way to capture 3D shape and volume measurements ideal for driverless-vehicles technology. Both light source and image acquisition are synchronised in such a way that the distances can be extracted and calculated from the image data. Basler (Germany), time-of flight camera manufacturer, describes the principle as similar to the way dolphins use sonar to navigate, except the camera uses light and not sound.

Each ‘reach truck’ utilises three Basler 3D Time-of-Flight cameras. Each individual camera takes a three dimensional note of its environment, ensuring that its spatial perception is correct. Two cameras are mounted on the roof to allow for free movement in all directions. The reach truck take note of any landmarks within its environment, establishing an internal map. Any changes in the environment are immediately noticed, such as when a shelving unit is re-positioned or any barriers are located in its path and reacts to these problems appropriately. If there were a barrier blocking its path, they would edge around it the same way a human would.reachtruck2

The third camera is a modified Basler Time-of-Flight camera mounted on the reach arm. This is required to ensure accuracy when picking up pallets. The 3D data delivered by this camera ensures that the reach truck navigates precisely into the pallet on the first try, without the need for human guidance.