The human-machine interaction has a digital face

The face of AGV

Automated guided vehicles or transport systems (AGV) are currently one of the major topics in intralogistics. The German Engineering Federation (FDMA) also responded at the beginning of the year by founding its own specialist department for AGV. Because with the rapidly increasing product developments for this market also questions about safety technology and standardization become relevant.

The inventor Jana Jost and robot Emili

The inventor Jana Jost gestures to Emili that the container be raised to working height. © Fraunhofer IML

Various systems are already being presented at the current logistics trade fairs – one system being smarter than the other. As cool and futuristic as “Driverless Transport System” sounds, the machines are exactly that. But the warehouse of the future will not be run by AGVS. They are merely the tools of the staff. The nimble machines have to work together with people, in some warehouses even in confined spaces. Accordingly, it is important to develop them by aiming for a good collaboration between man and machine.

The new cooperation: Social Networked Industry

Researchers at the Fraunhofer IML are particularly interested in the question of what an intuitive human-machine interaction in the warehouse could look like. Under the generic term of “Social Networked Industry”, they explore the possibilities for new hybrid services that result from the cooperation of humans and Industry 4.0. Here, the focus is on a holistic view. In addition to technology, many social factors, such as qualification and acceptance, but also organizational aspects, such as communication and hierarchy in the cooperation between man and machine are being considered.

A team of developers headed by Jana Jost from the Fraunhofer IML set to work to design an AGV with the most intuitive operation possible. The result was EMILI (ergonomic, mobile, interactive load carrier for intralogistics). Actually, Emili is just a rolling box, functional and practical: It has the exact dimensions of a small load carrier (SLC). This makes this AGV as stackable and transportable as any other SLC. If necessary, Emili drives out its gear and becomes an automated guided vehicle.

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A rolling box with a face

The highlight: Emili is controlled by gestures. For example, you can wave to it, when you want it to come. The gesture control works wirelessly via a wearable that the user wears on his body. If necessary, Emili can also be controlled via a user-friendly app via smartphone or AR glasses. After Emili has rolled over, her container rises to an ergonomic working height up to the user – also via gesture control.

In addition, the small box-shaped robot has an e-paper display on the front. Here you can see a stylized robot head, which – depending on the condition of the AGV – laughs or makes a sad face. When the vehicle does not understand a demand, it indicates that with a puzzled face. This way, the user knows immediately the status of the device.

“#AGV: Emili responds to gestures. #HumanMachineInteraction at the #warehouse. @FraunhoferIML“

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If individual parameters of the machine are in a condition requiring maintenance, then Emili’s corners of the mouth hang down. It would not be different with a human employee. The app now gives users a simple, step-by-step guide on how to fix the maintenance issue, with or without augmented reality support. In this way, Emili is even ahead of a any human colleague.

At this year’s Logimat, Emili also demonstrated her newly developed interaction modules (IAM). Emili’s functions are very easily extended by plug-in modules, for example a scanner. These modules can also be stacked on top of each other and, in turn, have a modular structure so that they can be adapted or extended in shape and function throughout the lifetime of the robot. The interaction modules are not limited to the use of Emili directly, but are mobile usable. So they can also be used at the workplace, for example, to show instructions to the warehouse staff on the table or to scan there.

Prof. Dr. Michael ten Hompel, Managing Director of the Fraunhofer IML

“It will soon be normal for us to talk to a box.”

“Emili is the industrial prototype for a future social networked industry where people will collaborate with smart machines like Emili,” says Prof. Dr. Michael ten Hompel, the managing director of the Fraunhofer IML.

So far, the AGV still moves on solid tracks. But the development team is working to ensure that a new version of Emili will soon be able to freely navigate the room. And here, the developers have come a long way, because they have equipped the vehicle with a 3D sensor interaction module. The original goal of showing what an ergonomic and human-friendly way of communicating with machines can look like, has already been achieved by the Emili project.