Friday, December 9, 2016

Autonomous Road Haulage Freight Trucks May Benefit From New Player in the Market

Robot Forklift Manufacturer Looks to Offer Established Technology to the Sector
Shipping News Feature
US – Regular readers of the Handy Shipping Guide will know that we have long covered the saga that is the development of autonomous road vehicles, both cars and road haulage trucks. After all, if and when autonomous freight transport become readily available and accepted this will represent one of the most significant technological changes that the industry has seen in a generation. The story of the development of the autonomous road vehicle is one of remarkable, arguably overambitious, technological development to try and make this goal, not so long ago simply science fiction, a reality. Now another company has thrown its hat into the ring but, unlike a lot of the competition, this one has an established background in building practical autonomous vehicles that have been in successful use for over a decade.

Pittsburgh-based Seegrid was established in 2003 and the company’s Autonomously Guided Vehicle (AGV) (self-guiding robot forklifts to the layman) are used by several major companies such as Amazon, BMW and Jaguar at their distribution centres and manufacturing plants. The rapid development of robotic materials handling systems is widely accepted and now Seegrid is talking about applying their knowhow to the road. Unlike some of the cutting-edge solutions that are being experimented with and currently trialled on the roads by the competition, its technology is tried, tested and in widespread use already. As Seegrid CEO Jim Rock said:

"We've done nearly 500,000 miles in actual customer production environments with no accidents."

There are several key differences in Seegrid’s approach. Firstly, while other developers are experimenting with exotic technology like light detection and ranging (LIDAR) scanners Seegrid has a proprietary stereo camera system that give its vehicles depth of vision with existing technology and software.

In this field Seegrid has an advantage through experience. Automotive manufacturer Tesla recently announced that it is dropping the experimental LIDAR system it had been working on and switched to fitting future vehicles with eight monocular cameras going around the perimeter of the vehicle, paired with radar to provide a depth of field to the viewing systems. Seegrid think that Tesla has made the right move but point out that their own developed system already uses eight stereo systems which provide image data, and the ranging data, from a single sensor, greatly simplifying integration and software.

Another factor that makes Seegrid’s intent of interest is that the company is not talking about building its own autonomous road vehicles but providing kits to existing producers for fitting to their vehicles. Seegrid points out that it’s system is already extensively used by several motor manufacturers in their own facilities and, as such, experience with the system already exists.

The company has developed a prototype using a Nissan Leaf to test its sensors on the road outside of the warehouse setting that it was designed for. Though this initial system is not fully autonomous yet, Seegrid states that it hopes to have a more advanced testing machine built in 2017.

This year saw a highly successful trial with six major truck makers heading across Europe in convoys under computer control. With the future almost certainly laying with autonomous vehicles it could be that an answer to guidance and control systems without all the ‘bells and whistles’ may prove a safer option for future development.