Digital Testbed Air Cargo puts results on display

Researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics IML have demonstrated the initial results from the Digital Testbed Air Cargo research project at Munich Airport.

The results were on display at Munich Airport yesterday (Monday 13 May) to demonstrate the potential uses for digital technologies that could shape the future of air cargo.

Fraunhofer IML has been working with partners at the Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences, insurance company KRAVAG, and Munich Airport partners Cargogate, CHI, Sovereign Speed and DB Schenker on the research project.

Robots were given different uses with Spot the robot dog, developed by US manufacturer Boston Dynamics, being equipped with a scanner and 4K camera to patrol the warehouse autonomously and identify large storage pallets ready for storage and the corresponding storage locations.

An autonomously operating forklift took over the intermediate transport to the automated high-bay warehouse and O³dyn, developed by Fraunhofer IML, transported Euro pallets from the neighbouring warehouse.

The Fraunhofer IML-developed evoBOT, which has two gripper arms based on the principle of an inverse pendulum and does not need an external counterweight, placed packages from a Euro-pallet onto the conveyor belt of an X-ray machine and back on the pallet after the X-ray process.

The processes were controlled by the Fraunhofer control system software openTCS, a low-threshold tool for coordinating automated guided vehicles.

Dr Jan-Hendrik Andersson, Chief Commercial Officer and Chief Security Officer of Munich Airport, says, “The cooperation between Fraunhofer IML and Munich Airport is future-oriented. Considering the increasing volume of air cargo and the staff recruitment challenges, digitalisation and robotics will help us make cargo and baggage handling more efficient and jobs in these areas more attractive in the near future.”

The project is funded with €7 million from the German Federal Ministry for Digital and Transport and will run until September is looking at optimising air cargo through better networking and the digitalisation of processes.

Several autonomous and automated devices were on display to either completely take over labour-intensive and repetitive tasks or support employees in physically demanding work.

Some processes were controlled manually and researchers believe that automation in air cargo handling will increase rapidly.

Professor Michael Henke, Executive Director of Fraunhofer IML, says, “On the hardware side, as today has clearly shown, we are already well advanced. In the future, artificial intelligence will support us in coordinating and controlling the vehicles. It will provide the necessary tools and algorithms with which we can pre-calculate the routes of the autonomous robots and safely avoid collisions. Ultimately, we will soon have fully autonomous systems that will make the air cargo industry fit for the future.”