Why is autonomous technology a game-changer for industry 4.0?

Why is autonomous technology a game-changer for industry 4.0?

Why is autonomous technology a game-changer for industry 4.0?
Technology and Business
In this guest article, EasyMile ’s Kevin Hoareau explores game-changing opportunities for driverless, including:
Automation in open outdoor environments
Adaptability and what this means for long-term use
Optimisation of costs and productivity
 
Automated guided vehicles (AGVs) were introduced in factories a few decades ago. Starting with magnetic tape-based localisation, they’ve progressed to more advanced and less restrictive autonomous technologies today. Real technical progress has been made to improve their performance. At the same time, the maturity of autonomous technology for light vehicles and public transport has increased sharply over the last five years to the extent that major car manufacturers, as well as internet giants, regularly announce new tests on open roads.
It is now possible to apply this autonomous technology to material handling operations. While regulation currently prevents public operations without drivers, private sites are the clear catalysts. This means the automation of vehicles dedicated to logistics flows will concretely move plants into Industry 4.0.
 
Building on successful experience in autonomous public transport, notably with the EZ10 shuttle, EasyMile recently introduced the TractEasy solution to the logistics market. It is the first autonomous tow tractor dedicated to material handling within a private site (for example a factory or a logistics centre), able to operate both inside and outside in a complex urban-like environment. This is why that changes the game completely:
 
 Automation in open outdoor environments
 
The technology that enables vehicles, for private or public transportation, to drive autonomously has been developed to meet environmental constraints in open outdoor environments. Negotiating a traffic light junction, navigating in the midst of other vehicles, giving priority to pedestrians at crossings, entering a roundabout and more are all interactions and events that are the norm when driving on public roads.
Extending the possibilities offered by the development of autonomous technology to logistics and industrial applications allows the automation of new logistics flows: the transport of goods between buildings on an industrial or logistics site (e.g. from the warehouse to the assembly line), including outdoors. 
 
Industrial and logistics applications also make it possible to develop certain functionalities, such as interior to exterior transitions (which are infrequent on public roads) or the interactions required to cross a railway track autonomously.
Image: EasyMile
Adaptability is key
 
The evolution of the main sensors used for automation (lidar), as well as the appearance of powerful data fusion algorithms, have made it possible to get away from dedicated infrastructure for driverless operations. It is now possible for an autonomous vehicle to navigate relying on elements already present in the environment. For example, it is no longer necessary to install and maintain magnetic strips on the ground or reflectors on walls or posts. 
This makes it much easier and quicker to adapt operations when changing the configuration of logistics flows, whether permanent or temporary (for road works, for example). As the definition of trajectories is now a ‘simple’ software step, the intervention of a trained engineer – and tomorrow a technician – will allow the necessary modifications to be made and validated within a few hours.
 
Given the novelty of the technology and the relative complexity of the installation tools and methods, most installation and modification operations are currently carried out by the manufacturers themselves. The plan is to allow trained partners to carry out these operations in the near future in order to encourage autonomy, including for processes.
 
Optimisation of costs and productivity
 
A study by Sapio Research in 2019 on ‘Automation for Intralogistics’ showed that the key factors for automating logistics flows were improved productivity (48%) and lower operating costs (42%). This is based, in particular, on the feedback from the implementation of AGVs in warehouses. The autonomous vehicle technology will extend the scope of logistics flow automation, which will in turn improve overall operational efficiency and give early adopters a competitive advantage.
 
Automation also allows human activities to be refocused on higher value-added tasks. Considering the transportation of goods from point A to point B within a factory, the high value-added tasks lie in the operations at the goods loading/ unloading points. The automation of repetitive and low value-added tasks, such as the driving phases between points A and B, makes sense in the context of reduced margins and recruitment difficulties due to a lack of manpower to perform these tasks.
 
The applications for autonomous technology within the world of industrial logistics are numerous. Manufacturers, logisticians, and equipment distributors are very interested in understanding how to optimise their current processes and prepare for the future of logistics. The organisation of industrial logistics as we know it today will have to be rethought in view of the technological advances available and evolutions to come. From autonomous vehicles, tracking systems, warehouse management systems, and control towers, the opportunities on the cusp of changing the face of tomorrow’s logistics are plentiful.
 
Learn more about the role automation plays in increasing safety and flexibility from our friends at EasyMile right here .
Are we seeing the end of dealerships?
It is easy to see how virtual test driving could mark the end of dealerships as we know them. The numbers show that we’re not too keen on showrooms – a survey of 11,000 global customers revealed 64% would prefer to complete the entire transaction of buying a personal vehicle online and of millennials, who now make up 40% of new vehicle buyers, only 12% visit a dealership for research .
 
But everything seems to point to a changing experience rather than the end of dealerships. Showrooms will increasingly focus on experiences and it is virtual tech which will allow them to do this.
 
Just as Tesla changed the game by making stores a place to get a feel for cars before buying online, VR will allow small spaces to become flexible showrooms for endless models. Even if personal ownership drops off with automated driving , showrooms will still be the place to test out which car, and company, you’d like to ride with.
 
Dealerships will be all about experiences and those experiences will often come in the form of a VR headset. We may still buy cars in the future, but test drives will never be the same.
 
What do you think a test drive will look in 10 years? Have you already experienced a VR journey? Would you buy a car without ever getting in it? Let us know in the comments section, or join the debate on social media. 
Related articles