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ANT Natural Navigation

What is it and What are the Benefits?

All the automated vehicles featured on ANTdriven.com are driven by Autonomous Navigation Technology (ANT). But what is ANT? And what advantages does this type of natural navigation offer? This guide explains it all.

What is ANT navigation?

ANT Navigation

Autonomous Navigation Technology (ANT) by BlueBotics is used to drive automated vehicles. Specifically, ANT is a type of natural navigation called natural ‘feature’ navigation (explained in more detail below).

ANT natural navigation drives thousands of automated vehicles around the world. These range from small, cleanroom-friendly robots that transport payloads of 100 kilos or less, to large fleets of underride ‘mouse’ AGVs used in automotive production, right up to heavy transport AGVs that move 100 tons of material between buildings. These vehicles span numerous different brands.

HubSpot Video

 

How does ANT natural navigation work?

Any navigation technology must address three key factors in order for a vehicle to navigate autonomously:

  • Localization: knowing precisely where the vehicle is

  • Planning: knowing where the vehicle should go
  • Control: knowing how it should get there

ANT deals with these requirements in the following ways:

1. Localization

ANT natural feature navigation works by taking measurements from a vehicle’s laser scanners (usually its existing safety scanners) and comparing or ‘matching’ these to permanent map references (features), such as walls. This approach is used alongside odometry to localize the vehicle in the map, calculating its exact position (to ±1 cm/±1°). All impermanent or ‘dynamic’ objects (such as pallets, boxes, people and so on) are excluded from ANT’s calculations. If part of a site does not include enough permanent features, small reflective stickers can also be added to provide additional references.


ANT fleet navigation

2. Planning

ANT driven vehicles navigate by following virtual paths around a site. Two navigation modes are available: path following (vehicle stops and waits in case of a blockage) or obstacle avoidance (vehicle move dynamically around the obstacle). These virtual paths and their associated ‘actions’ (such as moving a lift truck’s forks) are pre-programmed by a vehicle’s integrator using ANT lab software.

path following obstacle avoidance

3. Control

The ANT control system is efficient and easy to configure. Only the vehicle’s maximum speed needs to be defined by the integrator. Its speed during turns and so on is then automatically calculated in order to optimize the vehicle’s arrival time, while still guaranteeing that its payload is handled carefully.

Those vehicles that are fully controlled by ANT are, by default, compatible with multiple other types — and even brand — of ANT driven vehicle. To explore these, visit this site’s Vehicle Finder and activate its ‘Multi-Brand Fleet’ filter).

Is fleet operation possible with ANT?

Multiple types and even brands of ANT driven AGVs, automated forklifts and autonomous mobile robots can be used together in one connected fleet, all managed by ANT server fleet management software.

Example of an ANT driven fleet in operation:

HubSpot Video


Note: In this website’s Vehicle Finder, interoperable vehicles can be quickly identified by choosing the ‘Multi-Brand Fleet’ filter.

How does ANT compare to other navigation technologies?

There are numerous kinds of AGV navigation technology available today. Some methods have been around several decades, such as following physical lines on the floor, while others are more modern, like natural navigation and camera-based vision guidance.

Since the type of navigation inside a vehicle has a major impact on its performance, reliability and flexibility, it is definitely worth learning about the pros and cons of different AGV navigation systems. These are explained below.

Benefits of ANT navigation

1. Robustness

ANT driven vehicles do what they are programmed to do each and every time, with repeatable accuracy of ±1 cm/±1˚ or better. Since ANT navigation only requires a vehicle’s laser scanners to recognize a few permanent features in the environment (less than 5%), the performance of ANT driven vehicles is not affected by dynamic changes in the environment.

2. Flexibility

Vehicles driven by ANT navigation are quick and easy to install. Minimal infrastructure changes are required (only a few reflective stickers if natural features are lacking) – there is no laying of tape, tags or codes, or installing of laser triangulation targets. When your AGV operation needs to evolve, vehicle routes and actions are quick to modify in ANT software.

3. Scalable 

ANT enables you to build the ideal fleet of automated guided vehicles for your business. Numerous types – and even different brands – of vehicles can be connected seamlessly, all managed by ANT server fleet management software. Thanks to ANT server’s API, AGV operations can be managed directly from your business’s existing management software (e.g., WMS, MES or ERP). This API also allows vehicles to communicate with existing on-site equipment such as palletizers, automatic doors and elevators.

Note: In this website’s Vehicle Finder, interoperable vehicle models can be quickly identified by choosing the ‘Multi-Brand Fleet’ filter.
 

What functionalities do ANT driven vehicles offer?

Vehicles driven by ANT natural navigation offer a range of category-leading features, explained below. Advanced fleet management functionality, however, is available only with ‘ANT fleet ready’ vehicles (in other words, those that have a specific fleet-ready version of ANT inside and therefore work with ANT server software).

‘ANT fleet ready’ vehicles

‘ANT fleet ready’ vehicles run a particular version of ANT navigation, which makes them fully compatible with ANT server software. This compatibility opens up a world of advanced fleet management benefits.

Example ANT driven fleet installation


ANT server warehouse
1. ANT server fleet management software (used by AGV operator)
2. ‘ANT fleet ready’ vehicles
3. Communications
4. Interfaces
5. Remote devices
6. Vehicle actions
7. Traffic
8. Vehicle management
9. Mission scheduler/dispatcher
10. ANT server simulation
11. ANT lab configuration software (used by integrator)

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Below are the questions asked most frequently about ANT natural navigation. If you have more questions, please contact us.

Is ANT reliable?

Is natural feature navigation reliable? The short answer is yes. ANT is a highly reliable platform that is proven in industrial applications around the world.

As an example, the first ANT driven vehicle to go into commercial operation was an EMS Paquito AGV, installed at Dal Colle (Barilla Group) in Italy in 2009. This installation is still in operation today. Since then, over 3,000 more vehicles have been deployed, spanning numerous brands and types.

What types of vehicles run on ANT?

Almost a hundred different automated vehicle models run on ANT today. To explore these, visit this site’s Vehicle Finder. Since ANT offers virtual path following and obstacle avoidance modes, it suits not only automated guided vehicles but also automated forklifts and autonomous mobile robots.

AGV AMR Automated Forklifts

How long does it take to install ANT driven vehicles?

The installation (also called commissioning) of vehicles driven by ANT natural navigation is quick and simple.

Of course, careful planning is essential, such as deciding which tasks to automate, identifying pick and drop positions, defining routes, and setting traffic preferences. Your vehicle integrator can then use ANT software to fully simulate your operation. This will help you identify and solve issues upfront.

Once planning and simulation have been completed, the on-site installation of vehicles (mapping, programming routes and actions, and testing) is typically completed in a week or less. Larger installations with 50 or more pick and drop points may however take longer.

Does ANT natural navigation offer obstacle avoidance?

Yes. Vehicles driven by ANT natural navigation can be programmed to use virtual path following (stopping and waiting in case of an obstacle) or obstacle avoidance (whereby vehicles navigate dynamically around obstacles).

But do obstacle avoidance AGVs offer greater efficiency? The answer depends on the application. Generally speaking, path following suits industrial applications, whereas obstacle avoidance better suits mobile robot use cases.

Can ANT driven vehicles work outdoors?

Outdoor AGV operation is more challenging than indoor use, however with ANT driven vehicles it is possible. A typical application is moving very heavy loads, such as tires or steel coils, between buildings.

Plan now for an automated future

Transitioning to automated guided vehicles can be a practical means of future-proofing your business, enabling you to boost efficiency, increase capacity, and at the same time improve safety on-site.

So, with the automated guided vehicle market set to boom in the coming years, now is the perfect time to consider your AGV strategy.

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