Routine use of robotic lift trucks may not be far off.
Researchers at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, along with a team of engineers, have transformed a Toyota 8-Series lift truck into an autonomous bot capable of working alongside human supervisors using voice commands or hand gestures.
The 3,000-pound-capacity lift truck from Toyota Material Handling (TMHU) is capable of locating, lifting, moving, and placing supplies while traversing just about any type of terrain. It was demonstrated last month at an event hosted by the U.S. Army Logistics Innovation Agency at Fort Lee, in Virginia.
"Robotic forklifts have the potential to protect both military and civilian personnel working in high-risk environments, such as hazardous material storage facilities, said Brett Wood, president of TMHU.
The demo included a review of the robot's safety features, sensor capabilities, and human-robot interface.
The researchers and engineers developed a complex network of systems to enable the lift truck to navigate real-time conditions faced by lift truck operators (navigating obstacles and interacting with other moving vehicles, for example). To do this, they added a camera, sensors, laptops, servomotors, Wi-Fi, and a PDA.
"We chose the internal combustion Toyota lift truck because it can be operated outdoors on packed earth or gravel and because, with mini-lever control some of its functionality can be controlled electronically rather than solely mechanically," said MIT Professor Seth Teller, who headed the project.
The modified vehicle wirelessly exports video from its own point of view, so the human supervisor, even if hundreds of miles away, can see whatever is nearby (provided there is network connectivity between the lift truck and supervisor's tablet).
In September 2009, for example, the team demonstrated the lift truck operating autonomously at MIT, in Cambridge, Mass., while under the supervision of an operator in Washington D.C.… Read more