The internet-connected world will continue to transform the manufacturing and logistics industry. In the next ten years, it’s likely we’ll see technologies being used to create new, innovative ways to approach the coexistence of people, drones and robots within manufacturing and warehouse environments.
The manufacturing and logistics sector is currently facing a major challenge – how best to serve the ever-growing e-commerce market – with increasingly small-scale shipments, ‘just-in-time’ fulfilment and shorter delivery deadlines – in a cost-effective and sustainable way.
We’re likely to see motion capture technology, in particular, playing a more common role in overcoming this challenge by providing insights that are focused on human activity recognition and ergonomics in logistics and manufacturing environments. While this technology has already entered the manufacturing market, it’s likely to become more prevalent within the next few years as the level of automation and robot-human interaction increases.
Motion capture technology can be used to improve robot control by tracking drones to analyse the interaction between humans and machines. Being able to recognise and avoid obstacles within a warehouse environment, particularly where people are moving quickly and erratically, currently remains a key challenge in warehouses which can be an unpredictable and varied environment.
However, through the use of dedicated motion capture systems – which simultaneously process high volumes of data and deliver fast response times – drones used within a manufacturing environment can be trained to react almost instantaneously, avoiding contact and maintain minimum prescribed safety margins between people and drones.
This is something that is currently being tested by TU Dortmund, one of the leading technical universities in Europe, through research focused on human activity recognition and ergonomics in logistics and manufacturing environments.
The information captured from the data can then be used as a reference system for safely using drones or robots in a manufacturing environment, to check that the drone sensors are working correctly, to both improve positional placement and facilitate the decision-making process.
By adding machine learning to motion capture data, drones will also have the ability to recognise activities such as carrying boxes, order picking, and conveying goods from one point to another.
Virtual warehouses to recreate warehouse environments
The use of virtual reality (VR) will also continue to play a key role within manufacturing over the next several years. Through the use of this technology, manufacturers will be able to recreate warehouse environments virtually in order to simplify the testing process when deploying new technologies like drones, and will be able to use these environments when training staff. Without having to duplicate the exact, and usually immense, volumes of a typical warehouse, the VR environment will be able to deliver the same results as in the real world, in a much smaller footprint.
By using VR, large spaces can be imagined in a restricted space, and alongside motion capture cameras, can be used to capture accurate data for use in real-world applications.