‘Cobots’, or Collaborative Robots, Awarded for Ingenuity

The top prize-winning Flock design (Photo courtesy of Toyota Material Handling Europe)

The top prize-winning Flock design (Photo courtesy of Toyota Material Handling Europe)

Three inventive industrial forklift designers who developed “cobots” — or collaborative robots that can work side-by-side with human workers — were recognized recently by
Toyota Material Handling Europe. The company’s annual Logistic Design Awards were presented recently during a forklift trade show in Bologna, Italy.

‘Mother Goose and Her Ducklings’

First prize went to Fabian Brees, a young Belgian engineer, who developed a “Flock” concept in which various automated guided vehicles (AGVs) work in conjunction with each other within a warehouse or factory.

A primary AGV, known as the “Mother Goose”, is composed of a riding mast with forks that has a portal that can lift loads up to 15 feet high. The driverless forklift also has stabilizers that can be extended to the right and left from its base.

The “Mother Goose” vehicle services several smaller “Ducklings” within the “Flock”. Together, the vehicles can do the work of three manned forklifts, but more efficiently and at a much lower operating cost, according to Brees.

Drone Power

Second price — which was also the “People’s Winner– went to Josef Cerny, who developed a drone logistic system, a new archetype of material handling vehicle that has a center of gravity that is relatively unchanged. This conserves energy that normally is spent transporting weight balances along on standard forklifts.

“Thanks to the ‘U’ type architecture, the drone can embrace the cargo by its own chassis and fasten it for safer transportation,” Cerny wrote in his application.

Breakaway Forklifts

Third prize went to the Finnish team of Vajani Raisanen, Antti Laukkanen, and Sami Laiho, who came up with a concept vehicle that looks like a standard forklift, but with a unique twist.

The modular hybrid forklift truck has autonomous forks that can detach themselves from the main vehicle, maneuver to where a pallet is located, lift it, then transport it back to the main forklift.  The robotic forks can then reattach themselves to the main forklift so that the pallet can be moved and lifted to raised storage, positioned into waiting vehicles, or taken wherever it needs to go.

Both the detachable forks and the main forklift are fully automated and programmable, requiring no driver.

Second Annual Contest

This was the second year Toyota sponsored its Logistic Design Competition. Last year, the event focused on tow tractors. This year, the theme was forklifts.

The first place winner was awarded a cash prize of about $5,500. Second place got about $3,300, and third place got about $1,600. The “People’s Award”, which was selected by public voting online, got another $1,600.

All of the winners also were offered a six-month paid internship at Toyota Material Handling Europe’s Design Center.


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