Executive Briefings

Driverless Robotic Vehicles Have Great Potential, But the Human Element Still Needed - for Now

In the world of material handling, the notion of "driverless-ness" has been around for 60 years since the first automated guided vehicle (AGV) appeared in a grocery warehouse. High-tech warehouse operations are already used to the sight of AGVs performing tasks such as the vertical storage and retrieval of pallets and the loading and unloading of pallets onto outbound trailers.

Driverless robotic vehicles, on the other hand, have generally been assigned to low complexity and repetitive horizontal movement of materials as well as assisted order picking that involves a high degree of machine and human interaction. Although it may sometimes sound as if driverless vehicles are about to phase out forklift drivers altogether, Toyota Material Handling, which has developed an Autopilot AGV driverless forklift range, notes in a blog post that “there is still value in human operators in an automated warehouse. Human operators are far more capable of identifying issues in the immediate environment and any problems with picking orders. The role of the human operator in an automated warehouse will be more dynamic and varied as the ‘grunt work’ is now tasked to the automated system.”

This argument echoes the challenge that makers of driverless automobiles have expressed; in order for the technology to reach the next level of effectiveness, it has to assume “human” qualities. While the driverless car comes to a complete stop at the sight of a yellow light, the human driver is more likely to speed up to beat the red light, a fact that has been blamed for a number of collisions during testing of a Google autonomous vehicle prototype.

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Driverless robotic vehicles, on the other hand, have generally been assigned to low complexity and repetitive horizontal movement of materials as well as assisted order picking that involves a high degree of machine and human interaction. Although it may sometimes sound as if driverless vehicles are about to phase out forklift drivers altogether, Toyota Material Handling, which has developed an Autopilot AGV driverless forklift range, notes in a blog post that “there is still value in human operators in an automated warehouse. Human operators are far more capable of identifying issues in the immediate environment and any problems with picking orders. The role of the human operator in an automated warehouse will be more dynamic and varied as the ‘grunt work’ is now tasked to the automated system.”

This argument echoes the challenge that makers of driverless automobiles have expressed; in order for the technology to reach the next level of effectiveness, it has to assume “human” qualities. While the driverless car comes to a complete stop at the sight of a yellow light, the human driver is more likely to speed up to beat the red light, a fact that has been blamed for a number of collisions during testing of a Google autonomous vehicle prototype.

Read Full Article