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An automated transport vehicle controlled by gestures is a KIT attraction at Research & Technology.

FiFi might be the name of a dog, but it doesn't look like one and can do so much more: haul water crates, hold shopping bags or carry heavy suitcases. However, at HANNOVER MESSE FiFi will do these things at most for demonstration purposes. This automated guided vehicle is actually intended for businesses where the flow of goods and materials is still often done by hand – such as warehouses for automotive spare parts or consumer products for online retailers, or the internal flow of materials between departments in manufacturing companies.

"The main application area for FiFi is intralogistics, by which we mean the transport of goods and materials inside buildings," says Andreas Trenkle from the Institute for Material Handling and Logistics (IFL) at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). "FiFi can help reduce the physical strain on intralogistics workers so that they can perform their tasks more efficiently," adds Trenkle.

FiFi can aid in making jobs easier for an aging population to carry out since it simplifies the transport of both light and heavy loads. "The FiFi user interface is much more intuitive and natural than the systems that are commonly used in the logistics industry," adds Kai Furmans, Director of the Institute for Material Handling and Logistics at KIT. The goal of the project is to "make technology genuinely easy to use."

FiFi's advantage: The system perceives its environment with the aid of a 3D camera that enables it to recognize certain gestures and then execute commands. A wave of the right arm means that the user wants to take charge of FiFi. Once that occurs, the robot switches to Follow mode. The user can then walk ahead and FiFi will follow at a specified distance. Transfer mode is embedded in Follow mode, and the user activates with another gesture, prompting the electronic beast of burden to move within an arm's length so that the user can easily load or unload it. By pointing to the guide line on the floor, FiFi will autonomously follow the line to its next station.

Two variants of FiFi have been developed so far: The small vehicle can carry loads of up to 30 kilograms with a 50 x 50cm base area. The larger vehicle was developed in conjunction with KIT's industry partner, Bär Automation, and can carry loads of up to 300 kilograms. It can also pull a trailer. Both robots have built-in safety features so that they can work independently without having to be constantly monitored. To prevent collisions with people and objects, each is fitted with a safety laser scanner that dynamically adjusts the size of its safety perimeter in accordance with the vehicle’s speed of travel. FiFi will come to an immediate stop if it detects anyone or anything inside this safety perimeter. Neither version travels faster than walking speed. A height-adjustment system enables the robots to be set to a range of different working heights via gesture control.

KIT will be putting the smaller red FiFi through its paces at Stand B16 at the Research & Technology show in Hall 2. KIT may already be in operation in its first pilot application by April 13. "We are currently trialing FiFi in industrial settings and we are also in talks with potential users," says Andreas Trenkle.