Autonomous vehicles can perform an increasing array of tasks all by themselves

More and more vehicles will in future not only be able to drive but also to work autonomously. Research centre Flanders Make is developing the necessary technology to optimise as soon as possible various applications that are useful for multiple sectors. Think of autonomously operating fork-lift trucks and tractors. 

At this moment, we already have many types of machinery that are able to move autonomously and can perform certain tasks in industrial environments. Take, for instance, mobile robot platforms that hurry in factories from one work station to the next and mobile robotic arms picking strawberries in greenhouses. But not only robots can do this, also Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) and drones can already handle some tasks all by themselves.

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Smart fork-lift trucks

Flanders Make works, among others, on smart fork-lift trucks that can effectively find their way in warehouses, which would obviously be a blessing for the logistics sector. “We are developing algorithms, amongst other things, that allow fork-lift trucks to deal with obstacles and changing conditions”, explains Andrei Bartic, head of the research centre’s Decision & Control cluster. “This will enable them to save themselves from perilous situations and to calculate and follow another route, something that up to know was very difficult for such equipment.

Multifunctional tractors

Another Flanders Make innovation in this domain predominantly targets the agricultural sector. Experts are working on a better equipment of autonomous tractors so that they could handle a variety of tasks without having a driver. They could, for instance, pick up hay bales from various spots on the field and bring them together in one place, all by themselves. But they would also be able to autonomously mow the entire field.

“We not only want to make sure that tractors can do their job autonomously, we also aim at their multifunctional deployability”, says Marc Engels, head of the Motion Products cluster at Flanders Make. “It is important that not too much time goes lost in preparing the tractor for a new task, the machines must be flexible to be effective. We are currently developing the necessary strategies to make this possible in a safe way.”

Safer electric cars

Furthermore, Flanders Make also focuses on the safety of electric vehicles on the public road. Specialists have developed a demonstration version of an electric car, in which every wheel is powered by a motor and the failure of one motor during an evasive manoeuvre is corrected by the other three motors. 

“As a result, our car will after the failure still be perfectly capable to complete the initiated manoeuvre correctly, after which it will bring itself in safety, for instance by coming to a stop on the side or by driving at a low speed to a service station”, explains Engels. “Obviously, this backup system is not only useful for electric cars, it can also improve the safety of all kinds of mobile vehicles and machines.”

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Andrei Bartic - Cluster Manager
Auteur

Andrei Bartic - Cluster Manager

Andrei Bartic is obtained a physics degree from the Al. I. Cuza University, Iasi, Romania and a PhD degree in physics from KULeuven. After a career of more than 20 years in industry driven research (imec, FMTC, Flanders Make), he is currently the cluster manager of the “Decision & Control” competence cluster.

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