"LoadRunners" designed to autonomously speed goods through warehouses
Due to the current pandemic, people are shopping online like never before. This means that distribution warehouses have become very busy places, where goods need to be transported quickly but safely – and that's where the LoadRunner comes in.
Developed by engineers at Germany's Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics, the LoadRunner is a flat, wheeled, omnidirectional, autonomous robotic vehicle that can travel at speeds of up to 10 meters (33 ft) per second.
Propelled by four electric motors, each unit can carry a maximum 30-kg (66-lb) payload, navigating its way through the warehouse via onboard optical cameras that spot known landmarks within the building. When the LoadRunner reaches its destination, it brakes in such a way that its cargo slides off of the vehicle and onto the delivery platform.
Because multiple LoadRunners could be zipping about in one warehouse at the same time, they communicate with one another via 5G, operating as a collaborative swarm in which collisions are avoided. This swarming behaviour also allows two or more of the vehicles to work together, carrying a load that's too large or heavy for one LoadRunner to manage on its own.
Alternatively, each vehicle is also capable of towing cargo in up to four linked-together trailers.
In a recent real-world test of the technology, a group of approximately 60 LoadRunners was successfully able to process 13,000 parcels per hour. Fraunhofer is now developing an outdoor version of the vehicle that could be utilized in applications such as moving goods between warehouses, or even towing luggage carts at airports.