MIT, Toyota collaborate on unmanned lift truck


Innovative lift truck applications involving unmanned operation are being increasingly explored for high-risk work environments such as those in the military. Over two days this June, the U.S. Army Logistics Innovation Agency (LIA) hosted demonstrations at Fort Lee in Virginia of an MIT-developed prototype unmanned robotic from Toyota Material Handling capable of locating, lifting, moving and placing palletized supplies within an existing outdoor supply depot. The demonstration included review of the robot’s safety features, sensor capabilities and human-robot interface based on voice and gesture commands.

The robotics technology was developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, BAE Systems, and Lincoln Laboratory in collaboration with the LIA, the Combined Arms Support Command Sustainment Battle Lab, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Director of Defense Research and Engineering.

The 3,000-pound capacity, internal combustion Toyota 8-Series lift truck was modified by researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory to perform embodied speech and gesture understanding; shape estimation (from laser range scanner data); machine vision (from camera data); motion estimation (from GPS, inertial data and wheel odometry encoders); and autonomous mobility and pallet manipulation.

Proprietary Controller Area Network (CAN-bus) protocols, provided by Toyota’s 8-Series product engineering team, enabled the MIT team to connect its algorithms directly to the lift truck’s manual and electrical controls. The demonstration illustrated capabilities realized during the first two years of research and development on the project.

“We chose the internal combustion Toyota lift truck because it can be operated outdoors on packed earth or gravel and because, with mini-lever control some of its functionality can be controlled electronically rather than solely mechanically,” said MIT Professor Seth Teller, who leads the project.

“We are excited to work with the innovative researchers at MIT on this promising application of lift trucks,” said Brett Wood, president of TMHU. “Robotic forklifts have the potential to protect both military and civilian personnel working in high-risk environments, such as hazardous material storage facilities.”

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