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Swarm intelligence revolutionizes logistics

Here comes the swarm!

Collective work is the key to efficiency – that’s a well-known principle. Swarm logistics is considered a highly productive approach and is currently a big trend in the industry. Intelligent robot vehicles move autonomously and are no longer restricted to specific routes or paths. “Thinking along” and constant communication among the moving parts greatly simplifies logistical processes, achieving the best possible workflow in the warehouse. This concept is the future, so let’s take a closer look at the “swarm.”

Autonomous driving is considered the future in road transport – both in the private sector and in transport. Autonomous mobility is increasingly becoming a reality not just in active transport but also in production and storage logistics. Intralogistics concepts that combine driverless transport robots with intelligent, learning software are revolutionizing the logistics industry.  Swarm intelligence is also proving itself in the booming online and mail order business: Amazon is already using a robot system based on swarm intelligence – and not only since the enormous growth spurt caused by the coronavirus pandemic. But what exactly is a swarm and how does it acquire its “intelligence”?

Adaptation from nature

Whether in birds, fish or insects, we are familiar with swarm movements in the animal world. Insects in particular are remarkable for their extremely productive, individual work and division of labor within their swarm. They communicate with each other through various means and thus achieve the best possible results with their collective action, even without higher-level controls. For that reason, ants are often said to employ “good logistics” – because they demonstrate extraordinary skills in their orientation and wayfinding. The consistent and efficient organization of the collective is generally referred to as swarm intelligence.

Linking AI and logistics

Thanks to autonomously thinking computer algorithms, the swarm intelligence of the insect world can also be integrated into highly productive intralogistics processes. The “ultimate goal”: Having all kinds of order processing performed virtually without human help on a purely technological basis. For “swarm solutions,” individual transport units are equipped with their own computational power so they can continuously send data and independently process the data of other units. The intelligent software developed especially for this purpose makes it possible for these transport robots to communicate with each other, coordinate with each other, learn from each other and constantly optimize their processes. Of course the transport robots interact via wireless communication links.

Grenzebach's approach to automated guided vehicles - The "L1200S"

More than just a swarm

Intralogistical and collective transport concepts are becoming increasingly popular and initial uses of autonomous vehicles are already proving successful. At production sites and warehouse facilities around the globe, swarm logistics is soaring. This is because it enables the free movement of transport assistants in warehouses and other facility areas without them being restricted to certain predefined linear movements. At a rising pace, the adaptation of swarm intelligence in transport solutions at warehouses and production sites is resulting in the replacement of floor-based transport systems (e.g. on rails, conveyor belts or along induction tracks). The benefit of autonomous vehicles is that they can be used universally and reach their destinations individually.

Constant communication

Just as in the world of insects and birds, the technological level of the swarm intelligence concept can only work if there is direct communication, if the autonomous warehouse robots work collectively and thus enable an overview of the entire environment. Thanks to the implemented intelligent software, warehouse robots react to local “stimuli” and interpret their environments, such as objects blocking their way, other “members of the swarm” or even warehouse employees “of flesh and blood.” It is precisely this direct communication that enables the autonomous vehicles to self-organize within the warehouses and “coordinate” with each other directly in their swarm. The “individuals” in the swarm each orient themselves on their neighbors’ behavior and constantly adapt their speed and direction of travel (and in the future, possibly their flight path). This should actually eliminate protracted traffic jams and collisions at intersecting routes. The interactions of the individual decisions create a swarm intelligence that needs no central coordination. The “swarm” uses its artificial intelligence for constant self-optimization and can handle challenges.

The individual “swarm components” transport cartons, product shelves, stacking tables or pallets autonomously and bring them to their destination in the fastest possible way. It doesn't matter how the products are arranged on the shelf or whether the destination is the next picking aisle, product control, or incoming/outgoing goods.

Higher flexibility thanks to autonomy

The greatest benefit of these intelligent transport solutions based on swarm intelligence is the resulting flexibility. Equipment and vehicles can easily be adapted to new spatial conditions and order sizes at any time. In addition, the distances are considerably shorter compared to previous transport concepts, for example by driving under the racks – of course only if the vehicle carries no load. As a result, the driverless transport vehicles operate with increased efficiency and ultimately deliver a significantly better overall performance than previous systems.

The development and use of autonomous vehicles has already reached a high level. The use of driverless intralogistics concepts and thus a shift towards swarm logistics can revolutionize the entire industry in the coming years and signify the future of the production sites and warehouses.

High Tech Logistics Solutions

Our business units for High Tech Logistics in Austria and Germany offer a comprehensive portfolio of specialized B2B services for various industries: from banking, retail and health technology to office equipment, telecommunications, IT and data processing.
Our services include on-time deliveries with a special fleet of vehicles and a two-man crew, on-site assembly and customer training, dismantling and return transport of used equipment as well as specialized storage solutions, up to picking and packaging on pallet, item or serial number level.
With our dense network of import and export hubs, we offer nationwide deliveries up to the point of use. In addition, we provide a broad portfolio of value-added services and thus attractive end-to-end logistics solutions.

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