Robotic vehicles at the Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics IML, in Dortmund, Germany, can mimic the thinking of ants, almost. Multishuttle Moves®, as the machines are known, use processors modeled after ants’ brains and body systems to independently navigate a warehouse, identify items to pick up, and coordinate with each other to carry each item to its designated picking station.
Each vehicle knows what to carry and where to carry it, based on installed software that crunches “ant algorithms,“ which emulate the actual behavior of ants searching for food. The vehicles’ software programs notify them when an order comes in, and then each vehicle interacts with the others through W-LAN to determine which vehicle will take on which task and where. The fleet increases or decreases its activity as the demands fluctuate throughout the workday.
Their on-board navigation systems also enable each vehicle to move freely without crashing into any objects or, for that matter, other vehicles. And via their scanners for location, acceleration, and distance, the vehicles independently calculate the shortest routes to any destination.
Fraunhofer’s researchers, who built a fleet of 50 of these robots in partnership with robotics firm Dematic, said that this suite of capabilities makes them far more efficient and economical than traditional, human-driven vehicles. Following further testing and development, the researchers said, autonomous vehicles like them could be clearing inventory in warehouses throughout Germany and beyond.