To make intralogistics flexible enough for future production scenarios, dynamic assignment of intralogistics tasks will be necessary. The number of (semi-)autonomous vehicles and robots in this area will increase. The mobile platforms which can be found in some factories today are limited in their ability to work autonomously and interact with their environment.They often require tracks or navigation lines in the environment which drastically reduces their flexibility to adapt to a changed production. Furthermore, the combination of a mobile robot and a robot arm, i.e. a mobile manipulator, will greatly improve the usefulness of such a vehicle.
It can then autonomously load/unload materials in addition to transporting them from one area to another. While technologies already exist to free mobile robots or mobile manipulators from tracks through artificial navigation aids, there is still need for research when it comes to the effort needed to deploy such systems. Moreover current systems are better suited to deal with deterministic environments and transport goods (e.g. standardized trays) and lot need to be done in transforming the current day manipulation and navigation systems to a robust solution which can handle unforeseen situations.
The complexity of autonomous manipulation arises of the fact that such systems have to work in close proximity with humans and often share the same workspace. In current day systems, typically, the tasks for mobile robots must be precisely specified upfront. This requires a great amount of time leading to a prolonged introduction phase for a system, which is contradictory to the requirement of increased flexibility in production. Ideally, the reconfiguration of the production should not require a reprogramming of the intralogistics fleet but it should adapt autonomously to changed manipulation and transport requirements.
In FlexIFF, we will use the CHIMERA plattform built by JR ROBOTICS. It is a flexible mobile manipulator consisting of the mobile platform MIR100 and a Universal Robots UR10.
Mobile manipulators also need careful safety evaluation and must feature human-robot collaborative skills in order to safely fulfil their tasks amongst humans without the risk to cause harm to humans. To build teams of humans and robots in intralogistics, a flexible and unobtrusive way for them to collaborate needs to be found. This requires on the one hand enough safety features and on the other hand a higher degree of intelligence at the robot side. Finally, special care has to be paid to the grippers of mobile manipulators since not only the arm itself but also the gripper and the handling of objects must be done in a safety-oriented way.