Last month we wrote a blog about advancements in automated guided vehicle technologies. We included a wish list of capabilities from end users—features that would make an AGV more justifiable for their applications. The goal was to not only provide AGV manufacturers with an idea of what customers would like from their next generation products, but to help potential end users get comfortable with the idea of using these things. After all, AGVs have been used mostly by manufacturers for fairly predictable product movements. The next frontier involves various levels of autonomy and flexibility that would suit this technology better for distribution center and dock applications.
If you’ve already shopped the AGV market, you know the OEMs have already made big strides in areas like vehicle navigability and intelligence. The challenge for potential end users is not finding the features they want, but comparing the performance of those features from vendor to vendor—in other words, comparing apples to apples so they can get what they want for the best value. That’s why standards are still needed.
I’m not talking about safety standards. The state of the art has already come a long way in making AGVs navigate safely with the people sharing their environment. I’m talking about performance standards, and that’s where OEMs can use a bit of help from guys like Roger Bostelman. I introduced you to Roger in that AGV wish list blog, but in case you missed it, he’s engineering project manager with the Intelligent Systems Division of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. He’s also a member of MH&L’s editorial advisory board, and as such, is very interested in our audience’s experience with AGVs. He happens to be working on a project to develop a set of performance standards for them.
Now, standards can be a sensitive issue, so let me reiterate, we’re talking “performance,” not “safety” standards. That’s why NIST is getting involved. Their official mission is: “to promote U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards, and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve our quality of life.”
The best way to do that is to make it easier for end users to make informed purchasing decisions based on an even comparison of capabilities for a given price. Roger believes that will be the new game changer for competitors in the AGV space, but not for the development of new guidance methods. Users want to know how technology will perform given their set of circumstances. If a vehicle complies with a performance standard, it’s more likely to reassure them that the technology’s a good fit for them.
According to NIST, users would be able to compare the lowest cost quotes from OEMs and still be sure that the technologies were appropriate for their needs.
This would be good for the OEMs too.
“We are not developing a specification for a ‘standard AGV’ of any kind,” Roger says. “Rather, we are developing a standard way to test AGV or robotic systems. The test apparatuses can be used to practice and refine systems during development to help debug issues, to identify necessary improvements, and then to convey system capabilities to interested users.”
So don’t worry, OEMs. Nobody’s trying to tell you how to make your AGVs. The idea is to help you make them a better fit for your customers. And for you customers, there’s still time to let NIST know what features you’re wishing for so that performance can be tested, measured and standardized. E-mail your ideas to me at [email protected] and I’ll share them with Roger. If a new AGVS is in your future, you may make that shopping experience a lot easier.