As industrial automation is experiencing growing adoption numbers, automation solutions are replacing manual work in many areas. Automated guided vehicles (AGVs) or autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) with natural feature navigation are widely deployed in production and warehousing to facilitate and enhance the effectiveness of material flow.
Choosing the most suitable navigation type for your application is crucial if you are currently planning your automation system, as this impacts the overall system design and maximum productivity. There are many different AGV navigation types, with natural feature navigation being a very reliable and cost-effective solution. In this article, we will explain this navigation method, how it works, and its pros and cons.
How does natural feature navigation work?
Natural feature navigation, sometimes called SLAM (simultaneous localization and mapping), uses scanners to identify objects and map the environment. Natural features are static objects, such as walls or racks in a warehouse. The scanners receive information from the environmental features and use this information to build the initial map of the facilities. Then real-time measurements from scanners are compared to the original map to localize and navigate AGVs and AMRs.
Benefits of natural feature navigation
This is a very flexible solution compared to other navigation types (e.g., inductive wire, magnetic tape, laser navigation, etc.). Natural feature navigation typically doesn’t require additional equipment like reflectors, tape, or wires. In some cases, reflector stickers are placed on the racks or walls, but usually, this is not needed. It saves the AGV deployment time and makes this navigation type a very cost-effective solution, as there is no maintenance cost for hardware.
The system is easy to adjust in the future if there are any changes in the facilities or material flow process. Expanding or changing the AMR fleet is easy, and deployment takes just a few hours.
- Reliability and accuracy
AMRs and AGVs with natural feature navigation use scanners for navigation. The major advantage of this method is that the accuracy is not affected by light changes in the environment. The typical accuracy provided by this navigation type is +-1 cm or +-1°. Sensor fusion – combining various sensors into the same automated system – provides constant, accurate, and reliable positioning and navigation even in a dynamic environment. For instance, you can combine a LiDAR laser and an IMU, or a LiDAR laser and GPS for accurate navigation.
- The facility can stay the same
Automation with older navigation methods, such as inductive wire or magnetic tape navigation, requires equipment installation in the facilities. For example, inductive wire is built into the floor, and the installation of an AGV system based on inductive wire navigation can lead to the reorganization of a warehouse or a production site. Vice versa, if there are any changes planned in the facilities, adjusting the existing automation system will be costly and time-consuming.
- Provides real-time environment data
A fleet consisting of AGVs with natural feature navigation will be constantly communicating updates about location and material flow. Integration with WMS or WCS provides a real-time overview of automated processes, resulting in a fully automated warehouse.
- Allows AGVs to avoid obstacles
AGVs based on old navigation systems like magnetic type or wire navigation are not capable of obstacle avoidance, and they always follow a strictly predefined path. When something blocks the way, these AGVs will simply stop until the obstacle is removed. With natural feature navigation, the AGVs and AMRs are more flexible with the path following and can slightly change their route and get back on their path if there is an obstacle on the way.
- Cost-efficient solution
Automated AGV and AMR systems with natural feature navigation are cheaper in installation than other navigation types, as there is no need for additional infrastructure and, therefore, there are no maintenance costs for equipment.
- Highly adaptable to changing production environment
Changing production or warehouse layout is simple with natural feature navigation, and it’s easy to adjust the system if there are changes in the environment. Natural feature navigation allows easy reconfiguration of AGV-based automated assembly lines.
- Scalable and diverse
A great benefit of natural feature navigation lies in its opportunity to expand or change the fleet easily. Adding new vehicles to the existing fleet is simple and fast. It’s also possible to combine completely different AGVs in the same fleet to maximize efficiency.
- Sensor fusion options: IMU, dGPS, 3D-camera, 2D-code reader, reflector navigation and more
Mixing different sensors makes the highest accuracy results possible, even in areas with complicated layouts and dense traffic.
Since natural feature navigation technology is based on natural features in the facilities like walls or racks, positioning in very empty or highly dynamic facilities with no stable features can be challenging. However, using sticker reflectors in this case is helpful, as they will serve as landmarks and help the AMRs to define their position in the facilities.
Our automation solution utilises natural feature navigation for the most accurate results and highest effectiveness. Please contact us if you have any questions, and we’ll be happy to discuss your need for automation and help you to create the most suitable automation system for you.