How AI is Driving the Development of Automated Guided Vehicles - Mar 2019

Automated Guided Vehicles (AGV) have been used in distribution, fulfillment, and manufacturing for several years to improve operational efficiency and address shortages in labor. They can pick and carry lighter items and move on a predefined course between two or more locations—which was something out of science fiction at the turn of the century.

For warehouses that move large or heavy products, however, most of the available AGV solutions are far too small to lift the necessary items. In addition, moving bulky items or heavy pallets brings safety issues to light that smaller AGVs don’t face.

WSI is seeking to innovate in our warehouse operations through the use of larger AGVs that can conduct operations comparable to a forklift. One provider we sourced had an impressive software design, but each lift truck required a myriad of very specific custom modifications. This would mean extensive equipment downtime waiting for custom parts from the vendor any time the truck had a problem. Another provider had a better standardized hardware design, but their software wasn’t up to our standards.

After talking to several vendors, we began to realize that the AGV technology we sought simply doesn’t exist yet. In our search, however, we did make a valuable connection with a Chicago start-up called Onetrack.AI.

Improving Lift Truck Operations with AI

After working with robotics at BMW and exploring a concept that involved using drones in warehouses to take inventory and search for product, Onetrack.AI founder Marc Gyongyosi moved on to augmenting lift trucks. While Onetrack.AI hasn’t yet produced fully autonomous AGVs at the level we’re looking for, they have made some significant advances in AI (Artificial Intelligence) for lift trucks including addressing device location shortfalls of other systems as well as significant safety and tracking features.

With solutions like these, we believe that AI may provide an interim solution between today’s AGV technology and tomorrow’s fully automated lift trucks.

Internal Benefits of Lift Truck AI

After witnessing the AI in action, the team at WSI believes warehouses can see the following benefits from implementing lift truck AI technology:

Triangulation

WSI has identified a range of metrics that can impact productivity and price/rate checking. These include: 

  • Distanced travelled for each pick/putaway
  • Time per pick/putaway
  • Lift truck travel speed
  • Location of equipment/employees

Each of these factors depends on a facility wide triangulation capability, which AI powered solutions can provide. Combining the AI data with a WMS will tell exactly how long each activity takes and enable the user to identify areas for improvement.

Safety

By adding an AI component to safety initiatives, driver training can be complemented with continuous improvement. Supervisors can be notified when drivers: 

  • Don’t fasten seatbelts
  • Don’t look in the direction they are traveling
  • Aren’t properly trained on the equipment they are using
  • Operate equipment unsafely

 By monitoring this behavior, corrective training can be offered to improve safety for drivers and the safety of other employees moving around the facility floor.

Product Damage

When a lift truck hits a bump or receives an unexpected shock (such as from an impact), AI records the event—including a small snippet of video from just before to just after the incident. This not only gives material handlers more incentive to be careful, but also assists in determining the cause of damaged products or infrastructure such as columns or racking. 

Tracking Activity/Productivity

While many companies use software to monitor productivity, AI expands on that by giving the real-time location of every lift truck in the warehouse. In addition, if a material handler is logged into a particular document and doesn’t move for a period of time, a team lead can find them immediately to help troubleshoot the delay, make sure they are okay, or otherwise get them back to work. Since workers know they are being geo-tracked, the AI implementation also helps mitigate the risk of intentional delays. 

Autonomous Vehicles

While current AI technology doesn’t actually give us autonomous vehicles, we see it as superior to the AGV solutions available for warehouses. For starters, there is no need to lay guide wires or sensors for trucks to follow, which is difficult to maintain in contract warehouses where customers and racking layouts may frequently change. 

Instead, AI constantly remaps the warehouse. This not only helps guide drivers to the optimal path through the building, but will also be key to the development of truly autonomous vehicles in the future.

Building a Culture of Safety and Innovation

WSI is committed to providing our customers with highly efficient warehousing solutions driven by technology. We’re also dedicated to the safety of our employees. To find out more about our warehousing services and the technology we use to support them, please contact us online or call us at 920-831-3700.