The U.S. Army has successfully tested an unmanned robotic lift truck for potential use in high-risk work environments. The truck is capable of locating, lifting, moving, and placing palletized supplies in an outdoor depot. As with many innovations developed for the military, it may not be long before the technology finds its way into commercial applications.
In June, the U.S. Army Logistics Innovation Agency (LIA) held demonstrations of the robo-truck at Fort Lee in Virginia. The modified internal combustion Toyota 8-Series lift truck was put through its paces, demonstrating its safety features, sensor capabilities, and human-robot interface based on voice and gesture commands, according to information provided by Toyota Material Handling USA Inc. (TMHU). Those capabilities represent more than two years of research and development.
The robot is the product of a collaboration among scientists and engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), BAE Systems, and Lincoln Laboratory with the LIA, the Combined Arms Support Command Sustainment Battle Lab, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and the Director of Defense Research and Engineering.
Researchers at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory modified the lift truck to understand speech and gestures, estimate shapes, to "see" using camera-based machine vision, estimate motion, and move and manipulate pallets. Toyota engineers provided proprietary controller area network (CAN-bus) protocols to the MIT team, which allowed researchers to connect algorithms directly to the lift truck's manual and electrical controls.
"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, in a statement.