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Ceiling-mounted LEDS guide AGVs around factories

15 August, 2019

A group of German organisations have shown that using beams of light to locate and guide autonomous vehicles, such as AGVs, is a practical, flexible and reliable technique. In a three-year collaborative research project, backed by the German Federal Ministry of Education & Research (BMBF), the researchers demonstrated that ceiling-mounted LED lights can be used to guide driverless transport vehicles reliably through production or storage areas.

The project ­– called Lions (light sensor-based positioning and navigation services for autonomous systems) – was based on ceiling-mounted LED lights that emit identifying signals via modulated (pulsating) light. This modulation is invisible to the human eye, and no changes are needed to the existing lighting.

The project partners included: Fraunhofer IEM (which was responsible for the system design, as well as coordinating the project); Osram (which developed the modified LED lights and vehicle-mounted sensors); Götting (which developed an evaluation module for its Kate driverless transport system); and KEB (which used its own production processes to validate the application in real operating conditions).

The standard version of Götting’s Kate autonomous transport system is controlled using optical guide lines and transponders on the floor. For the Lions project, Osram modified standard industrial LED lights and developed a camera-based sensor system to receive the modulated light. An evaluation system on the vehicle processes the camera and other sensor data to facilitate navigation via a user interface.

KEB used its production site in Barntrup to test how the technology would work in real conditions. This demonstrated that light-based positioning could offer advantages over other navigation technologies. It could use existing lighting infrastructures and because shopfloor obstacles do not interrupt communications between transmitter and receiver, navigation is largely trouble-free. The route taken by the driverless transport systems can be reprogrammed, allowing processes to be streamlined and workflows smoothed.

Alexandre Bousaid, Bianca Miene (both of Osram) and discuss the LED-based positioning technology with Tommy Falkowski (from Fraunhofer IEM)
Photo: Fraunhofer IEM

“Easy and flexible navigation for autonomous vehicles is possible using light-based positioning,” concludes Fraunhofer researcher, Christian Fechtelpeter. “If, in the future, we link these to the existing LED ceiling lighting, the technology could be a key driver for Industry 4.0.”

The Lions project was part of BMBF’s Sensor-based Electronic Systems for Applications for Industry 4.0 (SElekt I4.0) programme.

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