Autonomous Guided Vehicle Master’s Project

In February this year I started work on my MEng Mechatronics degree at NMMU in Port Elizabeth. The current title for the project is “The Design of a Low-Cost Autonomous Guided Cart (AGC) for Material Handling”. The project was initially suggested through a collaboration of my department and the General Motors factory in PE.

I’ve barely posted any details during the year, I’m never quite sure where I stand with IP, as far as I know I own none of it, and the university owns it all. In any case, as part of the South African Automotive Week held in Port Elizabeth this week, our department had a stand and apparently a video similar to what can be seen below is on show there. I feel that’s more than enough to cover me posting the video here.

There are similar products available on the market, but they are very costly, I’m aiming at my product being less than R30,000 (US$3,500) per unit. Obviously this is a pure cost per unit value, and doesn’t take into account development costs that a normal project would invoke.

There were a list of specifications that had to be met, I’ll post my thesis early next year some time, as with any project, but the budget was definitely the limiting factor. There are lots of nice toys you can put into such a project, such as an R11,000 (cheapest I could find) laser range finder, alas. Finding suitable motors and drivers is also rather tricky.

I initially (and still do) wanted to use a microcontroller. After discussion with several staff members I was pretty much instructed to use a PLC. I understand that the application lends itself to PLCs, but I’m far more comfortable with microcontroller and the cost cutting effect would be significant.

In any case, the video shows some of the testing I did at the GM factory. Control is a bit iffy at the moment, I didn’t research my PLC choice well enough before selecting it. I have a few ideas in mind to improve this, unfortunately I’m in Germany till mid-December (well not really unfortunately) so I’m only going to have a week or two to make changes to my AGV before I have to hand in my thesis.

16 thoughts on “Autonomous Guided Vehicle Master’s Project

  1. Hi,

    I’m currently on an Autotronic Learnership course and half my class is made up of Mechatronics Learnership students as well…both sponsored and presented by VWSA. What’s the relationship between the 2 programmes and/or do you know any Autronics Engineers/Technicians? Also, what’s the career path like for these including salary range?

    PS: Thanks for your blog…

    • Hey Thando

      I don’t know much about the autotronics course, but I imagine it would be more considiered with what’s happening in the car itself than mechatroincs. I would imagine the mechatronics course that VWSA give is more focused on the production of the car, the manufacturing process. As for career and salary range, I’m not sure. What qualification are you given once you’ve completed the course?

      I’ve heard of some people who get into maintenance on aeroplanes, with the military or commercial companies and financial prosepects there are apparently quite good.

      If you want more info on Mechatronics you can see my post here.

  2. please again what do you mean by what happening in the car itself for autotronic and manufacturing process for mechatronic

  3. Hi Gareth, I just recently completed my matric and I happen to have a great interest in Mechatronics. I’d like to study them at NMMU. However, I haven’t applied at the university but I meet the minimum requirements. The problem is the school I’m from is a government school, so it did not offer Engineering Graphics and Design and/IT. Which are recommended NSC subjects by the University.
    What I’d like to know is, are there any possibilities that I can be able to do th degree without any specialized knowledge of IT or Engineering Graphics and Design?

    I’d like to repeat what Thando said; thanks for your blog.

    • Both subjects are recommended but not a requirement. The related subjects are presented in a manner in which people who have not got previous experience in the subject are able to complete the course. So you are able to do the subjects without having taken them at school, but you’ll just have to work a bit harder than those with previous experience.

  4. Have an honours in mechatronic eng from Zim…want to do masters at MNNU….how do I go about it so tt I secure a place.

  5. But is possible to find a masters place…I’m just curious man…cz I saw in your post tt u were jus four in your masters class…

  6. Hi Gareth,
    I am currently doing BSc Electronic Engineering but I want to change to machatronics as my interest is more in robotics and automation. But unfortunately my University doesn’t offer mechatronics, will I get Credits if I transfer to NMMU ? (specifically first year since I have done a lot of maths and science in first yr)

    • Hi Banele, it depends on the exact structure of the courses at the different universities.
      But things like physics and maths you should definitely be able to get off if you transfer.
      Speak with the NMMU admissions department directly for details.

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