FiFi and technology transfer
at Research & Technology 2015
Wouldn't it be nice to have a faithful helper to hold the shopping bags and carry those heavy trunks out to the taxi? And if you think that kind of help would be nice around the home, just imagine what a difference it could make in all those warehouses where flows of heavy goods and materials are still managed by hand! Applications are easy to think of - things like high-rack warehouses for automotive spares, consumer goods stored for shipment by online retailers, and flows of materials between different departments at manufacturing firms quickly spring to mind.
The good news is that Andreas Trenkle and his team at the Institute for Material Handling and Logistics (IFL), which is part of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), have developed an assistance system called FiFi for precisely these sorts of cases. FiFi is an electric automated guided vehicle that has a key advantage over other intralogistics solutions - it is controlled contactlessly by simple hand gestures. The Karlsruhe Institute of Technology will be putting FiFi through her paces at the Research & Technology show in Hall 2 at HANNOVER MESSE 2015. Visitors can look forward to an exciting, inspiring embodiment of the show's longstanding commitment to getting smart technology solutions out of the science lab and into industry.
So what does FiFi actually do? She perceives her environment with the aid of a 3D camera that enables her to recognize certain gestures and hence execute commands. A wave of the right arm means that the user wants to pair with (take charge of) FiFi. Once that is done, FiFi switches into Follow mode - just like her trusty canine namesake. The user can then walk ahead, and FiFi will follow at a specified distance. Follow mode includes Transfer mode, which the user activates with another gesture, prompting the handy electronic beast of burden to move up to within arm's reach so that the user can easily load or unload her. If the user points to a guide line on the floor, FiFi will autonomously follow the line to the next station so that she can be loaded or unloaded by the next user. "The FiFi user interface is much more intuitive and natural than the systems that are commonly used in the logistics industry," says Kai Furmans, the Director of the Institute for Material Handling and Logistics at KIT. "Our aim is to make technology genuinely easy to use."
"The FiFi system illustrates the important role that R&D innovations play in the industrial sector. In this sense, the Research & Technology show enables the various user industries targeted by HANNOVER MESSE - that is, companies in need of innovative technology solutions - to make contact with providers from the research and development sector," says Marc Siemering, Deutsche Messe's Senior Vice President responsible for HANNOVER MESSE.
Different FiFi models for different tasks
The team at KIT have so far developed two different variants of the FiFi automated guided vehicle - a small red one and a large yellow one. The smaller of the two can carry loads of up to 30 kilograms and has a 50 x 50cm footprint. The larger vehicle was developed in conjunction with KIT's industry partner, Bär Automation, and can carry loads of up to 300 kilograms. It can also pull a trailer. Both robotic vehicles have built-in safety features so that they can work independently without having to be constantly monitored. To prevent collisions with people and objects, each is fitted with a safety laser scanner that dynamically adjusts the size of its safety perimeter in accordance with the robot's speed of travel. FiFi will thus automatically come to an immediate halt if it detects anyone or anything inside the safety perimeter. In addition, neither vehicle can travel faster than normal walking speed.
Both variants have a height-adjustment system and can thus be set to a range of different working heights via gesture control. "The main application area for FiFi is intralogistics, by which we mean the transport of goods and materials inside buildings," says Trenkle. "FiFi can help reduce the physical strain on intralogistics workers so that they can perform their tasks more efficiently." This means that FiFi has the potential to make intralogistics work more appropriate for today's ageing populations by reducing the time workers spend carrying heavy loads.
At the upcoming HANNOVER MESSE 2015, which runs from 13 to 17 April, KIT will be putting the small red FiFi variant through its paces at Stand B16 at the Research & Technology show in Hall 2. By that time, KIT may already be in operation in its first pilot application. "We are currently trialing FiFi in industrial settings and we are also in talks with potential users," says Trenkle. As the leading trade fair for R&D and technology transfer, Research & Technology is another excellent setting at which to discover what this electric assistant has to offer.
A recent video of the FiFi automated guided vehicle system can be viewed at www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zy9AqGxUqp4
Image: R. Eberhard, messekompakt.com, EBERHARD print & medien agentur gmbh
Source: Deutsche Messe AG