Industrial plants have been dabbling in autonomous vehicles for nearly 50 years, but Pittsburgh-based Seegrid has raised the bar.
The company’s stereoscopic, vision-guided system simulates the workings of a pair of human eyes, delivering a continuous stream of 3D images. By equipping their vision guided vehicles (VGVs) with a total of 10 cameras, or five sets of eyes, Seegrid has created VGVs that have an unobstructed 360-degree view at all times.
The VGV’s 360-degree view comprises thousands of points, indicating both tangible objects and empty space. Environmental input is collected two times per second, and statistically interpreted to allow reflex-speed adjustments that make safe navigation possible.
“Our customers need a vehicle that will accomplish the same task every time, even when the environment changes,” says Jeff Christensen, Seegrid’s vp of products and services. Those changes can be significant, or as minor as a person walking by or a box that has been moved. The VGV’s response, he explains, is comparable to a person who is walking down a crowded hallway. It immediately reacts to its constantly changing environment, adjusting its movements and ultimately arriving safely at its destination.
Unlike other driverless vehicles, the VGVs require no costly changes to facility structure. They also eliminate the need for laser, magnet or other material methods typically necessary to guide movement. The result is significant cost-savings for companies.
Safety is another benefit for companies that employ VGVs. OSHA estimates 110,000 human-interactive forklift accidents per year, with a fatality occurring as often as every three days. VGVs, on the other hand, are what Christensen refers to as “light years ahead” when it comes to safety. With more than 200,000 miles logged, Seegrid’s VGVs have had zero accidents, saving companies the headaches of injury, material damage and potential downtime.
Tim Spang, Seegrid’s new vice president of operations, explains the new hybrid working environment. “Vision guided vehicles are changing the way people and machines work together. By maximizing those interactions, companies are benefitting from improved workflow and efficiency.” The resulting cost savings is also increasing the competitiveness of local companies.
Dr. Hans Moravec, Seegrid’s founder and chief scientist, spent his career developing the evidence grid technology that is the foundation of the company’s success. Established in 2003, Seegrid’s name is derived from the vehicle’s ability to “see,” along with a reference to Dr. Moravec’s “grid” technology.
Seegrid’s VGVs are at work in a number of the region’s manufacturing plants and fulfillment and distribution centers. Because no changes to facility infrastructure are necessary, companies can cost-effectively begin with one or two VGVs, and increase that number as their business needs evolve.
Seegrid’s vision guided autonomous pallet trucks and tow tractors are solving some of the greatest challenges in the materials handling industry by optimizing productivity, reducing operating costs and improving facility safety.
The company’s Pittsburgh operation employs 85 people, whose backgrounds are as diverse as mechanical and electrical engineering, mathematics, software development, product assembly and more.