This blog post provides a brief exposé on the future applications of Unmanned Ground Vehicles outside of self driving cars. Self driving or autonomous cars are the most common application of unmanned ground vehicles that comes to mind when discussing unmanned ground vehicles in commercial use. The advancement of scanning technologies such as LiDar, radar and machine learning with the aid of cloud connectivity and industrial internet of things have allowed the concepts of self driving cars and other unmanned ground vehicles to begin to see mainstream usage and adoption albeit at a cautious pace. As you read through this blog I encourage you to share other applications of unmanned ground vehicles. What kinds of enabling technologies do you think will be needed and what are, if any, the ethical concerns.
Apart from public transportation, there are other applications, that may be arguably important, vis-à-vis material and personnel transport in fully or semi controlled environments such as farms, construction sites, industrial complexes, factory floors, warehouses, and airports to mention a few. UGV applications are particularly suitable for replacing so called dirty, dull and dangerous work in controlled environments like these because the infrastructure setup and cost, if any at all, can be kept to an acceptable minimum as compared to self driving cars to be used on public high ways. For example, in a warehouse management setup, the warehouse floor can be autonomously mapped by UGVs as they traverse their surrounding. In addition, well defined markers could be placed at points of interests to assist the UGV in decision making. Finally, electronic beacons, radio based or light based, could also be dispersed strategically allover perimeters for further navigation assistance and decision making. Amazon’s warehouse automated by UGVs that are responsible for transporting shelves of merchandize to and from defined locations in the warehouse to improve the efficiency of fulfilling online orders.
On a farm, UGVs could be used in transporting harvested crops and produce from a harvester or picker to another location for further sorting, processing and or packaging. The UGV could be a driverless trolley, truck or wagon. The idea is that the UGV works alongside humans who would load it up with materials, including crop harvests, allowing the humans to concentrate on productive work while the UGV does the rounds of collecting the materials to a specified location in a precise and predictable fashion. Such an application makes use of GPS for navigation, high definition cameras for object detection and other computer vision enabled decision making. Volvo has tested a self-steering truck that drives alongside a mechanized sugarcane harvester to reduce sugarcane loss during harvest due to trucks driving over the crops.
The area of concern for the two example use cases is seemingly reduced compared to self driving cars meant to transport humans and materials on existing public roads.The environment in which the UGV operates can be completely controlled and managed such that the risk of injury to humans and damage to properties are minimized because the expectation for everyone in such an environment will be set a priori and presumably, human personnel working there will have adequate training. Furthermore, development and deployment cycle for the UGVs can be considerably shorter because of the small area of focus and work domain. The data collected by the UGVs will be used in improving their performance in a feedback loop that allows engineers and workers to monitor and approve improvements to the systems in a shorter time frame with little risk to those onsite. In addition, the training data could be shared with other UGVs performing similar tasks at different locations or site. This approach could enable the proliferation of UGVs in a manner that is very controlled and predictable.
Other uses of UGVs is in a semi-controlled environment where the area of operation is shared by the general public. For example operations such as sidewalk snow removals, street cleaning and garbage collection can be automated by UGVs, however, the general public’s safety must be taken into account. To achieve this, the UGV must travel very slowly since safety is must be of paramount concern above other competing commercial concerns. Volvo is testing a self driving garbage truck that automates the collection of roadside garbage. The trucks travel the street at a very slow speed in reverse, stopping by garbage bins to have them picked up and dumped in to the trucks collector as per its human operator’s instruction.
As the technologies that enable UGVs for localized applications such as those explained in this blog improve and public confidence gets better, there will be more applications of UGVs explored and discovered.
Bhasin, K & Clark, P (2016). How Amazon Triggered A Robot Arms Race. Retrieved from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-06-29/how-amazon-triggered-a-robot-arms-race
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Transport Topics . (2017). Volvo’s develops self steering trucks for farm use. Retrieved from http://ttnews.com/articles/basetemplate.aspx?storyid=46288&t=Volvo-Develops-Self-Steering-Truck-for-Farm-Use
Grossman David, Popular Mechanics. (2017). This Self-Driving Garbage Truck Is Kind of Brilliant. Retrieved from http://www.popularmechanics.com/cars/trucks/a26570/volvos-self-driving-garbage-truck