The orange-colored vehicle begins moving with a quiet whirr. Soon afterwards the next shuttles begin to move, and before long there are dozens of mini-transporters rolling around in the hall. As if by magic, they head for the high-rack storage shelves or spin around their own axis.
The autonomous transporters perform their work in a swarm. © Fraunhofer IML
But the Multishuttle Moves® – is the name given to these driverless transport vehicles – are not performing some robots‘ ballet. They are moving around in the service of science. At the Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics IML in Dortmund, Germany, researchers are working to harness swarm intelligence as a means of improving the flow of materials and goods in the warehouse environment. In a research hall 1000 square meters in size, the scientists have replicated a small-scale distribution warehouse with storage shelves for 600 small-part carriers and eight picking stations.
The heart of the testing facility is a swarm of 50 autonomous vehicles. “In the future, transport systems should be able to perform all of these tasks autonomously, from removal from storage at the shelf to delivery to a picking station. This will provide an alternative to conventional materials-handling solutions,“ explains Prof. Dr. Michael ten Hompel, executive director at IML.
But how do the vehicles know what they should transport, and where, and which of the 50 shuttles will take on any particular order? “The driverless transport vehicles are locally controlled. The ›intelligence‹ is in the transporters themselves,“ Dipl.-Ing. Thomas Albrecht, head of the Autonomous Transport Systems department explains the researchers‘ solution approach. “We rely on agent-based software and use ant algorithms based on the work of Marco Dorigo. These are methods of combinational optimization based on the model behavior of real ants in their search for food.“ When an order is received, the shuttles are informed of this through a software agent. They then coordinate with one another via WLAN to determine which shuttle can take over the load. The job goes to whichever free transport system is closest.
The shuttles are completely unimpeded as they navigate throughout the space – with no guidelines. Their integrated localization and navigation technology make this possible. The vehicles have a newly developed, hybrid sensor concept with signal-based location capability, distance and acceleration sensors and laser scanners. This way, the vehicles can compute the shortest route to any destination. The sensors also help prevent collisions.
The vehicles are based on the components of the shelf-bound Multishuttle already successfully in use for several years. The researchers at IML have worked with colleagues at Dematic to develop the system further. The special feature about the Multishuttle Move®: the transporters can navigate in the storage area and in the hall. To accomplish this, the shuttles are fitted with an additional floor running gear. But what benefits do these autonomous transporters offer compared with conventional steady materials-handling technology with roller tracks? “The system is considerably more flexible and scalable,“ Albrecht points out. It can grow or contract depending on the needs at hand. This is how system performance can be adapted to seasonal and daily fluctuation. Another benefit: It considerably shortens transportation paths. In conventional storage facilities, materials-handling equipment obstructs the area between high-rack storage and picking stations.
Packages must travel two to three times farther than the direct route. “It also makes shelf-control units and steady materials-handling technology,“ Albrecht adds. Researchers are now trying to determine how these autonomous transporters can improve intralogistics. “We want to demonstrate that cellular materials-handling technology makes sense not only technically but also economically as an alternative to classic materials-handling technology and shelf-control units,“ institute executive director ten Hompel observes. If this succeeds, the autonomous vehicles could soon be going into service in warehouses.
Thomas Albrecht | Fraunhofer Research News
Study sets new distance record for medical drone transport
13.09.2017 | Johns Hopkins Medicine
Researchers 'count cars' -- literally -- to find a better way to control heavy traffic
10.08.2017 | Florida Atlantic University
Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.
A warming planet
Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.
The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...
Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...
Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!
When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...
For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.
Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...
19.09.2017 | Event News
12.09.2017 | Event News
06.09.2017 | Event News
22.09.2017 | Life Sciences
22.09.2017 | Medical Engineering
22.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy