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RIT Developing Autonomous Forklifts and Trucks For Materials Handling

Industrial Photonics
Jul 2018
Engineers at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) are developing “smart” forklifts and truck technology for autonomous materials handling.

The team is building a next-generation intelligent materials handling system, with their research project focusing on the design and prototyping of systems to advance warehouse productivity and safety.

"We are determining how to have internet connectivity and control of devices,” said Mike Kuhl, project leader and interim department chair of industrial and systems engineering in RIT's Kate Gleason College of Engineering. “Can we develop a system where we'd have autonomous vehicles, forklifts in a warehouse, where they would be able to communicate with each other and make decisions regarding task allocation and navigation? Some of the challenges are defining the routes and determining the decisions made. More autonomy would be a big step forward."

In most instances, robots are not typically making decisions. Individuals at a central facility program robot movement and items to distribute over fixed paths, Kuhl said. The system he envisions through the project work would be of a fleet of self-driving forklifts that communicate with each other, determining which tasks to do based on machine learning and autonomous technologies.

With a $500,000 grant from Toyota Material Handling North America U.S.A. Inc., researchers will work with the company's New York affiliate, The Raymond Corp., over the length of the project. The grant, part of Toyota's University Research Program, was created to develop new technologies for the entire supply chain, logistics, and materials handling industry.

"The research this program generates fuels our industry's future technological advancements, which is why we are proud to see its continuation for a second year," said Brett Wood, president and CEO of Toyota Material Handling North America U.S.A. "In our continued collaboration with top universities, professors, and researchers, we are excited to see how their work will improve our industry and the warehouse of the future."

In the initial phase of the project, researchers are developing a simulation to represent the overall autonomous system and modeling of decision-making protocols and how the vehicles would interact. In the next stage, the team plans to build a scaled system consisting of small robots that will autonomously drive and communicate with each other for testing. A full-scale system for forklifts and other robotic equipment found in warehousing will be implemented as the final part of the project.

BusinessRochester Institute of Technologyautonomous handlingsmart truckssmart forkliftsfactory automationsensors and detectorsToyota Material HandlingAmericasTechnology News

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