A Comparison of Automated Material Transport
The words automated and autonomous are easily confused and often interchanged, but their meaning is inherently different.
Computer-controlled machines that can perform a set of defined tasks by following specific instructions with minimal or no human intervention.
Machines that have the intelligence to make decisions when faced with new or unexpected situations. These machines may have the ability to learn as they encounter new situations.
Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) and Self-Driving Vehicles (SDVs) are also often confused. Each system operates with fundamentally different technology, from perception and navigation software to onboard sensors. Therefore, they have different capabilities and potential applications.
Automated Guided Vehicle (AGV):
An AGV is an unmanned electric vehicle that is controlled by pre-programmed software to move materials around a facility. AGVs1 rely on guidance devices such as magnetic tape, beacons, barcodes or predefined laser paths that allow the AGV to travel on fixed paths in a controlled space. Lasers and sensors detect obstacles in its path and trigger the vehicle to stop automatically2.
Self-Driving Vehicle (SDV):
An SDV is a vehicle in which operation occurs without direct driver input or pre-configured scripts to control the steering, acceleration, and braking.3 Within an industrial environment, an SDV utilizes laser-based perception and navigation algorithms to dynamically move through facilities, infrastructure-free. Machine learning capabilities enable the vehicle to become more efficient and accurate as it encounters new situations.
Automated material transport has experienced an evolution due to rapid advancement in sensors and big data capability. Autonomous next-generation solutions are disrupting conventional AGV technologies with 5 core advantages:
AGVs are fixed. They follow predefined paths using lasers, beacons, barcodes or magnetic tape.
SDVs do not require external infrastructure for navigation, making implementation hassle-free and highly scalable.
AGVs can be added to facility if layout adheres to AGV infrastructure requirements.
Additional SDVs can be operational in <1 day as they operate from a centrally controlled map, shared among the fleet.
Moving an AGV is equivalent to installing an AGV system for the first time - significant resources are required.
SDV can be redeployed from one plant to another, or to a different zone within the same plant. With a centrally controlled fleet manager, setup time is minimal and can be completed by the customer.
AGVs are not intelligent machines and do not facilitate industry’s vision of the ‘smart factory4 (Due to infrastructure, intelligence is not required.)
Onboard intelligence enables SDVs to adapt to changing environments and easily integrate with other solutions (including ERPs). Machine learning collects data and updates the fleet’s shared map with learned parameters.
AGVs are designed to do simple tasks, yet setup and operation is cumbersome, complex, and costly.
Implementation includes mapping facility once with a vehicle then setting up zones and points of interest on the map in the fleet manager.
1 Modern Materials Handling, “Automation: What is an AGV,” June 2011. http://www.mmh.com/article/aut...
2 Modern Materials Handling, “Casters, Carts, and Tuggers: Reinventing the Wheel,” June 2016. http://www.mmh.com/article/cas...
3 Wall Street Journal, “Tesla CEO Musk Sees Fully Autonomous Car Ready in Five or Six Years,” http://www.wsj.com/articles/te...
4 Industry Week. “The Dawn of the Smart Factory” http://www.industryweek.com/te...