Ada Genavia
Mar 23, 2012

Researchers develop 'swarm intelligence' in the form of driverless transport vehicles

At the Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics IML in Dortmund, Germany, researchers are working to harness swarm intelligence as a means of improving the flow of materials and goods in the warehouse environment. In a research hall 1000 square meters in size, the scientists have replicated a small-scale distribution warehouse with storage shelves for 600 small-part carriers and eight picking stations. The heart of the testing facility is a swarm of 50 autonomous vehicles. Head of the Autonomous Transport systems department, Thomas Albrecht, states that the "intelligence" is in the transporters themselves; they are locally controlled. The shuttles are completely unimpeded as they navigate throughout the space -- with no guidelines. Their integrated localization and navigation technology make this possible. The vehicles have a newly developed, hybrid sensor concept with signal-based location capability, distance and acceleration sensors and laser scanners. This way, the vehicles can compute the shortest route to any destination. The sensors also help prevent collisions. These are methods of combinational optimization based on the model behavior of real ants in their search for food.