Blog: Autonomy and beyond: optimisation and new business

Autonomy and beyond: optimisation and new business

-Click for facts about positioning technologies-

Moving items to and from a storage facility can be done by tracking every item itself: Attach and fix a tracking device, i.e. an Active RFID tag, and it will report its position when moved, saving battery by only transmitting when in motion. Every item can at any time be located through its tag.

Alternatively, track all equipment which can move the item: Register the initial position of the item and keep track of who and what manipulates it – from where to where. A laser-guided forklift adds a measurement of the fork’s height above the floor. Every item has an identification code, e.g. a bar code, and initially registered on its horizontal coordinates and height where it is picked up from – then tracked to the stack position and height at the storage, where it is subsequently placed. The forklift in this example is tracked; not the item itself. Yet at the end of the operation the item’s position is updated in the inventory list.

Autonomous or Centralised control

AGV – Autonomous Guided Vehicles will take over many tasks currently handled by manual operators. A storage facility, container terminal, trailer parking lot can be automated and centrally controlled. If no human interference or random persons are allowed inside the perimeter, the system will operate automatically from input to output.

Autonomy

Full autonomy in an open environment has still some way to go. The automotive industry autonomy level definitions – where level 0 is a fully manually driven vehicle – describes at the far end of the scale level 5 as “the full-time performance by an automated driving system of all aspects of the dynamic driving task under all roadway and environmental conditions that can be managed by a human driver” [Wikipedia].

Learn from best practice

Which methods are being applied in adjacent businesses within asset management, yard management, healthcare inventory tracking? If finding a certain part is critical for the operation, it may be worth the cost of adding a tracking unit. CPH Airport uniquely tracks the position of those steel rods used for pushing aircrafts off the apron as delay may cost a slot time for departure.

Will manufacturing competitors have a leading edge on only cost of operations or also by the ability to reshape the business model by introducing make-to-order shifting manual repetition or endless conveyer belt operations to flexible robotics and autonomously driven vehicles on the factory floor? The automotive industry increasingly follows Dell Computers’ inventory less manufacturing: No stock of last year’s colour now being totally wrong.

Automating even more parts of the product or logistics will generate enormous amounts of data; data which can be examined and may reveal areas for further optimisation. A company having manually driven forklifts assisted by a fully automated inventory based on coordinates in 3 dimensions of all items, registering pick-up and put-down automatically, have reduced operational costs significantly at their warehouse.

Moreover, no items disappear by faulty handling or the operator having missed registering the transaction.

Plenty of proven and operational automation technologies exist to track and steer equipment and goods. The challenge is selecting the optimal method to balance up-front investment and operational cost – while providing ample business opportunities to separate from competition and assuring the instalment is not leading to a dead end as technologies further mature.

-Click for reading part I-

More information:

Senior Advisor Jesper Meulengracht, jesper.meulengracht@glaze.dk, +45 40 68 39 67

Positioning technologies currently applied across industries:

Global Navigational Satellite System: Outdoor positioning requires line-of-sight to satellites, e.g. GPS: the tracking device calculates its position from 4 satellites’ timing signals then transmits to receiving network
–    via local data network, e.g. wifi, proprietary Wide Area Network
–    via public/global data network, e.g. 3G/4G

Active RFID: A local wireless positioning infrastructure built on premises indoor or outdoor calculates the position based on Time of Flight from emitted signal & ID from the tracking device to at least 3 receivers or when passing through a portal. The network is operating in frequency areas such as 2.4 GHz WiFi, 868 MHz, 3.7 GHz (UWB – Ultra Wide Band), the former integrating with existing data network, the latter promising an impressive 0.3 m accuracy. Tracking devices are battery powered.

Passive RFID: Proximity tracking devices are passive tags detected and identified by a reader within close range. Example: Price tags with built-in RFID will set off an alarm if leaving the store. Numerous proprietary systems are on the market. NFC (Near Field Communications) signifies a system where the reader performs the identification by almost touching the tag.

Beacons: Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) signals sent from a fixed position to a mobile device, which then roughly calculates its proximity based on the fading of the signal strength. For robotic vacuum cleaners an infrared light beacon can be used to guide the vehicle towards the charging station.

Dead Reckoning: Measure via incremental counting of driving wheels’ rotation and steering wheel’s angle. Small variations in sizes of wheel or slip of the surface may introduce an accumulated error, hence this method is often combined with other systems for obtaining an exact re-positioning reset.

Scan and draw map: Laser beam reflections are measured and used for calculating the perimeter of a room and objects. Used for instance when positioning fork-lifts in storage facilities.

Visual recognition: The most advanced degree of vision is required in fully autonomous vehicles using Laser/Radar (Lidar) for recognition of all kinds of object and obstructions. A much simpler method can be used for calculating a position indoor tracking printed 2D barcodes placed at regular intervals in a matrix across the ceiling. An upwards facing camera identifies each pattern and the skewed projection of the viewed angle.

Inertia: A relative movement detection likewise classical gyroscopes in aircrafts now miniaturised to be contained on a chip. From a known starting position and velocity this method measures acceleration as well as rotation in all 3 dimensions which describes any change in movement.

Magnetic field: a digital compass (on chip) can identify the orientation provided no other magnetic signals are causing distortion.

Mix and Improve: Multiple of the listed technologies supplement each other, well-proven or novel, each contributing to precision and robustness of the system. Set a fixpoint via portals or a visual reference to reset dead reckoning & relative movement; supplement satellite signal with known fixpoint: “real time kinematics” refines GPS accuracy to mere centimetres; combine Dead Reckoning and visual recognition of 2D barcodes in the ceiling.

LoRaWAN: A low power wide area network with wide reach. An open standard that runs at unlicensed frequencies, where you establish a network with gateways.

Sigfox: A low power wide area network reminiscent of LoRa. Offered in Denmark by IoT Danmark, which operates the nationwide network that integrates seamlessly to other national Sigfox networks in the world.

NFC: Used especially for wireless cash payments.

Zigbee: Used especially for home automation in smart homes, for example. lighting control.

NB-IoT: Telecommunications companies’ IoT standard. A low-frequency version of the LTE network.

2-3-4G Network: Millions of devices are connected to a small SIM card, which runs primarily over 2G, but also 3G and 4G.

Wifi: The most established standard, especially used for short-range networks, for example. in production facilities.

CATM1: A low power wide area network, especially used in the United States.