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.