Portering Robots

They are portering robots-designed essentially to fetch and carry. However, warehouse robots have one thing in common with assembly-line robots: they work in highly structured environments where humans are, by and large, kept out. Some warehouses run with the lights-out because the robots don’t need lights and humans never need to go into the main storage part of the warehouse (except, of course, if something goes wrong). Warehouse robots typically move along predefined routes through the warehouse.

However, like assembly-line robots, portering robots are highly sophisticated machines. And-also as with assembly-line robots-it is a mistake to judge a single robot in isolation. Portering robots often work in groups called multi-robot systems that in turn form the visible part of an integrated system of great complexity. Warehouse or factory portering robots belong to an important class of robots called automated guided vehicles (AGVs). An AGV is a mobile robot that is able to autonomously navigate from one point to another, often by following a buried wire or markers on the floor. A portering AGV must be able to carry or tow a load, perhaps lifting it and setting it down automatically. A good example is a forklift AGV (in effect a driverless forklift truck): it must be able to sense obstacles in its path, including people, and safely come to a stop.

An AGV is usually an electric vehicle, powered by batteries, and so it must also be able to sense its own battery level and determine when to stop working and go to a recharging station. We can see therefore that a portering AGV needs at least three types of sensors: to detect navigational markers, to detect obstacles, and to sense its own battery level. It also needs to communicate, via radio, with the warehouse or factory system controlling and coordinating the AGVs and, if the AGV has to be loaded or unloaded manually, it will need a simple human-robot human environments. Basic safety features are, first, that the TUG moves rather slowly and gives audible beeps while it is moving. Second, the TUG is able to sense possible collisions with people or objects, and will come to a stop; it will only start moving again when the way is cleat Human-robot interaction is simple, but effective. Hospital staff can request pickups of deliveries via the Wi-Fi network, and when the TUG arrives at its destination the robot will make a verbal request by ‘speaking’ a synthesized phrase, to indicate to the human user that it has come to either collect or drop off an item. The TUG has no speech input: just two large buttons which the user presses (‘pause’ and ‘go’) after loading or unloading to send the robot on its way. Between deliveries, the TUG will find its way back to its recharging station so that it is ready for work the next time it is required.