Tallinn University of Technology

TalTech’s prototype logistics robot, unveiled in 2019, has been upgraded and is now even smarter than before. The mobile robot, designed to move goods autonomously in warehouses and factories, now has a higher load capacity, utilises improved technology, and can be controlled remotely via a digital twin.

One of the goals in the development of the new and improved version of the robot was to increase its load capacity and make it smarter without significantly changing the robot’s dimensions. The new version of Boxbot, the mobile robot, is equipped with an enhanced lidar system, a camera, and a laser for indicating the travel trajectory of the robot.

The most important innovation, however, is Boxbot’s digital twin: if Boxbot should encounter any difficulties or if it needs to be moved to a different location, a human operator can assume control of the upgraded version of the mobile robot from virtually anywhere in the world and guide it via a smartphone, tablet, or even a VR system.

‘While Boxbot, the mobile logistics robot, is carrying out its daily duties in the factory of Kulinaaria OÜ in Lasnamäe, a researcher at TalTech can put on a VR headset and take control of the machine via an app,’ stated Industrial Technology Professor Kristo Karjust at TalTech.

‘It essentially functions like a radio-controlled toy car, except the connection is established over a mobile network, and – what is more – when wearing a VR headset or using a smart device, the operator can view a real-time feed of what the robot sees and where it is located in the room, in order to make prompt decisions as necessary,’ Karjust explained.

While mobile robots are far from a new invention, what makes Boxbot unique is its compact size, mobility, and flexibility. As it can navigate indoors autonomously, it does not require a secure, sealed environment to operate in.

Developed in collaboration between TalTech and Kulinaaria OÜ, Boxbot is evolving every day and can even successfully navigate in changing environments – like factories and warehouses, which are regularly traversed by both people and machinery and where goods are constantly being shifted around.

The little logistics robot is basically like a miniature lift truck, with the new version being capable of lifting loads of up to 100 kg at a time. After departing from its prescribed point A, Boxbot crawls under a frame prepared for the purpose by human workers, lifts it up together with the necessary raw materials or finished products, and delivers it unaided to point B.

‘What makes the matter complicated is that Boxbot is intended to operate in indoor spaces, where it cannot rely on GPS. Instead, it needs to understand the layout of the room, identify any obstacles via lidar and find a way around them,’ Karjust added.

TalTech’s engineers eventually plan to take Boxbot from a prototype to a fully fledged logistics robot, but the learning opportunities offered by the project are at least as valuable. Solving practical problems is important, but the key thing is that it allows students to gain new knowledge; and technologies, of course, develop in the process.

Technical parameters of TalTech’s mobile robot:

  • Overall dimensions: length 750 mm, width 340 mm, height 230 mm
  • Floor clearance: 35 mm
  • Omni wheels that enable the robot to turn on the spot as well as move laterally
  • Maximum travel speed of 2 m/s, adjustable speed parameters
  • Load capacity of up to 100 kg
  • Operating time of at least 6 h
  • Emergency stop and visual alarm to signal workers
  • 2D camera and two LIDAR units for navigation and mapping
  • One laser for travel trajectory indication
  • Data communication capabilities