In the 2000s, the »Segway«, the electrically powered one-person vehicle, was among the trendy fun and fashionable vehicles for young and old. The driving principle of the platform on two wheels is now more up-to-date than ever: researchers from the Silicon Economy have used the »inverse pendulum« to build a platform with an intelligent automatic balancing system in the »OpenDynamics« development project, which is intended to establish a new class of dynamically stable robots. »Our research team was so fascinated by the principle right from the start that we did everything we could to develop a logistics application from it that offered real added value«, says Mathias Rotgeri, Head of the Prototype Center at the Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics IML. »Thanks to the pendulum motion, a robot based on our platform can now lift objects directly from the ground and deliver them at different heights.« Numerous applications can be found in intralogistics for such highly manoeuvrable, fast transport robots, which promise an all-in-one solution.
Ingeniously simple – simply ingenious
The platform’s mechanics are conceivably simple and just as smart: instead of moving on four drive wheels like classic transport robots, it moves on two wheels. The researchers have trained the platform’s skillfulness and ability to drive over a wide variety of surfaces in numerous trials and functional tests – both indoors and outdoors. The principle: always stand up one more time than fall down! In the meantime, the two-wheeled platform effortlessly absorbs any external movement impulses, is not irritated by manual impacts or kicks, and skillfully masters ascents on ramps and descents from steps. Even bumpy asphalt and other uneven surfaces outdoors are no longer obstacles for the platform. »For some time now, we have had a prototype that curves across the hall floor at high speed – and not only there it reaches considerable speed,« says Mathias Rotgeri.
With the functioning platform, the researchers have achieved a decisive breakthrough for the new category of dynamically stable transport robots in intralogistics. For this purpose, it can be equipped with a wide variety of gripper solutions for holding, positioning and moving goods. »The special thing is that many intralogistical tasks can then be handled in a very smart way, for which you still have to use several robots up to now,« Mathias Rotgeri explains the advantages of the solution. Basically, the handling of goods is improved and pick rates can be maximized.
Of decisive importance for the locomotion of the platform or the automation of the transport robot, which is mobile later, is the control system. This is also being developed in the »OpenDynamics« project of the Silicon Economy on the basis of an AI-based simulation. This enables the shuttle platform to follow a predefined path, recognize its surroundings, localize itself and avoid obstacles accordingly – all a matter of navigation software, which can be expanded at will and is constantly being further developed.
Commercial solutions based on open source
The researchers are now eager to see what kind of solutions will emerge on the basis of their development. After all, the construction plan for the first pendulum stage of the chassis – like all results from the Silicon Economy – is to be made open source. Mathias Rotgeri: »With the Silicon Economy, we are basically developing solutions for so-called commodities in logistics – i.e. applications that all companies need, but which are not competitively differentiated. In the software sector, these are, for example, track & trace services. With our platform, we now developed exactly such a standard solution in the hardware area that every intralogistics company can use.«
In parallel to the Silicon Economy project it can be seen how great the interest is in commercializing the development: Based on the open source code, innovative functionalities for the chassis had already been developed at Fraunhofer IML, which already resulted in a patent application. The corresponding test vehicle called »evobot« was presented to a small circle of logistics experts as a preliminary stage of the new class of dynamically stable robots at the IFOY TEST DAYS at the end of March 2022.