The Future of AGVs: New Technology to Keep an Eye On
As analysts continue to predict the spread of automatic guided vehicles (AGVs) across the industrial sector, robotic forklifts have quickly become the future of manufacturing and warehouse automation. But what about the future of AGVs themselves?
Over the past several years, the capabilities of AGV systems have skyrocketed as software and sensor technology has improved. Companies now provide vehicles with more accuracy, safety, and efficiency than ever before, and the next few years hold possibly even more promise than the previous ones. Several technologies, in particular, could make an immense impact on the AGV industry. This post will define those technologies and explain how they could affect the AGV market.
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LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) Sensors
When placed on an AGV, a LiDAR sensor transmits a collection of laser pulses that measure the range between objects and the vehicle itself. This compiled data creates a full 360° environmental map of the operational area, and the subsequent mapping enables the AGV to navigate throughout the facility without any additional infrastructure.
As a result, LiDAR sensors provide systems increased flexibility. Although LiDAR has been around for several years, the cost of these units continues to drop, meaning more and more companies will begin incorporating LiDAR onto their vehicles. Look for LiDAR to make an even bigger impact on the AGV industry in the years to come.
AGV computer systems and camera-based vision often work hand-in-hand with LiDAR sensors to provide vehicle navigation. The camera’s ability to capture information in real time helps vehicles operate in actual manufacturing and warehousing environments. This data allows vehicles to “see” obstacles and plant infrastructure and, when combined with range information provided by LiDAR sensors, creates a dynamic, complete 3D image of an operational area.
However, the ways in which camera technology can be applied to AGV systems extend beyond navigation. In the future, cameras could improve how vehicles detect pallets, allowing them to interact more effectively with manual vehicles. This technology may also enable stand-alone vehicles to operate more efficiently inside facilities.
Dual-mode AGVs, which can be operated manually or automatically, have been on the market for several years already. However, users have often struggled to use these vehicles as designed. Toggling between manual and automatic proved unreliable and ineffective. Nevertheless, with the accuracy and dependability of sensors placed on AGVs continually increasing, the future of dual-mode vehicles looks bright.
Improving technology combined with ever-advancing applications knowledge means that the issues typically encountered in these types of AGVs may soon disappear. As forklift manufacturers begin to cooperate with AGV experts, a viable solution to the pitfalls of prior iterations of dual-mode vehicles could soon emerge.
Even with these individual pieces of technology contributing to the futures of AGVs, software still plays the largest role in the evolution of the industry. It often serves as the backbone of an AGV system. By coordinating functions like vehicle communication, order generation, and traffic control, software distinguishes the “good” systems from the “bad” ones. Even in stand-alone systems, the software programmed into the AGVs dictates the efficacy of the system.
As such, the applications knowledge of software development and engineering teams holds the greatest potential to transform the AGV industry. Their abilities can solve the unique challenges of individual facilities and can implement specific pieces of technology to best suit certain applications. This power translates into AGV systems that provide solutions, rather than simply vehicles, for those that implement driverless units.
Wrapping it all up
While automation has had a presence in the material handling sector for years, its ever-increasing implementation rates could transform the way that we envision manufacturing. Some completely automated facilities already exist, and the number of these sites continues to grow. AGVs play a significant role in the evolution of manufacturing, due in large part to the aforementioned technologies.
Laura McConney is a Marketing Assistant at JBT. She writes about material handling, automation, and manufacturing at JBT. In her free time, she dabbles in coaching ice hockey.