Typically, AGVs employ one of two methods for guidance. The first and oldest method consists of a fixed path such as wire, tape, or paint on the facility floor. The AGV senses the location of the path and follows it subject to the instructions of a central traffic controller. Commands from the traffic controller are usually sent as a radio message to the vehicle. In some cases, Infra-red communication access points are used for this, and some technologies actually broadcast the signal over the wire.
Owing to the difficulty in installing, maintaining and changing the physical path based design, free-ranging AGV guidance technology is now the most popular method of control. This method uses either inertial navigation technology combined with an odometer to control direction speed and positioning, or the more common method is to use a system of Mirrors and Lasers that are continuously triangulating the vehicles position.
Another “semi-pathless” method of guidance is provided by strategically embedding magnets in the path to be followed – and combining the ability to move from magnet to magnet with the odometry technology mentioned earlier. All of these latter methods are attempting to address the problem of moving wires or physical paths to make a change. This can be a problem in an installation where ongoing operations would possibly be affected by the disruption of the change.
One of the benefits of this so called “autonomous” guidance system is that the vehicle can now make decisions about how to route itself based on real time feedback of traffic and obstruction information. The primary benefit of this approach, however, is the ease with which a path can be established and then changed as requirements in the process evolve. Most systems use a CAD based program to define the available paths throughout the process, along with the points at which the AGV can pick up or deposit a load. Then, an AGV is physically driven through the plant on a human operated pendant, where it learns the location of all mirrors. Finally, the information from this exercise is uploaded to the CAD system. All paths, and changes to the paths are designed at the CAD station, and downloaded to the AGV’s in the process. The traffic controller is then responsible for requesting load movements, and assigning vehicles to the task. Each vehicle can then autonomous determine the most efficient path through the process to complete its mission.