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What is Industrial LiDAR?

June 30, 2022  |  Tony Rigoni

LiDAR technologies are rapidly transforming many industries ranging from material handling to factories, logistics, ports, mining and agriculture by optimizing critical operational processes, increasing efficiency through automation and increasing safety through collision avoidance. This is what we refer to as industrial LiDAR. Industrial automation is one of the biggest areas of growth for LiDAR currently, with ABI Research estimating the total installed based of LiDAR sensors in smart spaces, security and industry verticals will reach 16 million by 2030

Let’s take a glimpse of how this technology works and then explore some of its many applications.

How does industrial LiDAR work?

As its name may suggest, LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) is the light equivalent of radar technologies. LiDAR emits rapid light pulses towards a target – the landscape and objects near it – and then measures the amount of time that the light takes to travel back. From that data we can calculate a distance. By spinning a single laser, we can create a 2D point cloud of data.  With multiple lasers, it creates a 3D point cloud. This point cloud data can be used to create maps to navigate an autonomous vehicle, for instance, but it can also be used for many industrial applications, as we’ll discuss below. But not all LiDAR is the same; Quanergy is transforming the application of LiDAR in the industrial space with our next-gen technology.

How can you use LiDAR in your business?

Industrial Robot Solutions

Industrial mobile robots have been in use in warehouses for decades. They first followed a wire along the floor and later, stickers. This requires a lot of time to set up the infrastructure, and there’s no flexibility. It’s a fixed path and the robot always moves along that set path. Then, 15-20 years ago, some companies started using LiDAR with reflectors, which allowed them to triangulate their positions from these “beacons.” This enabled them to know where their robots were in real time, but this approach still required a lot of set-up and calibration. Today, 2D LiDAR is used to create maps of the environment and locations themselves based on natural features. This software is referred to as Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM), and it greatly reduces setup and commission times without having to install any infrastructure.  The challenge with 2D LiDAR is the robot’s ability to intelligently understand its environment – the robot knows where it is, but doesn’t understand if a box or a person is in front of them. With Quanergy’s next-generation LiDAR, not only can robots do natural feature navigation but they also can see potential objects/dangers around them, classify what they are, avoid the obstacle and pick a better path instead. 3D perception also enables cliff detection, allowing the robot to perceive the ledge of a loading dock to avoid falling over the edge. 

Furthermore, with 3D LiDAR, if multiple robots are navigating the same area, they can make smarter and more efficient decisions such as picking a different path instead of stopping and waiting for the other robot to pass – increasing both efficiency and safety. 3D LiDAR makes it possible to identify and classify objects accurately every time and make intelligent decisions based on what the object is. Such 3D systems are becoming increasingly accessible – they don’t have to overwhelm computer resources or cost huge amounts.

It’s also possible now to map a whole warehouse in less than an hour and deploy robots instead of taking weeks or months to set up the infrastructure for your robotics. Your robot knows where it is instantly. The robot is simultaneously localizing itself with SLAM navigation and is mapping the new environment. Imagine a fleet of these robots in a warehouse; they are constantly updating this map and sharing it. This technology is so useful that ABI Research predicts that the installed base of SLAM-enabled Autonomous Mobile Robots will exceed 15 million by 2030.

Industrial Warehouse Automation Solutions:

Tag-free asset tracking: Warehouses need to track assets moving in real time. Historically, that’s been done with a variety of different tag systems: barcodes or RFID, BLE, Wi-Fi or UWB (ultra-wide-band tags,) for example. Each of these tags has limitations; the most obvious one being that you need to put a tag on every object you want to track and maintain all those replacement batteries. You also must install many readers in a large warehouse to get the necessary coverage. There are also issues with the accuracy of radio tags in warehouse environments because of all the steel shelving 

However, our LiDAR is able to track all moving assets – people, forklifts, mobile robots and so on – without the use of tags and with a high degree of accuracy in real time. No other technologies out there today can do this; Quanergy has created the Tag-free Asset Tracking ™(TfAT) concept.

Automation Storage & Retrieval (ASRS):

Another aspect of warehouse automation technology is an Automatic Storage & Retrieval System (ASRS), which uses robots to pick from long rows of shelving. The computer software tells the robot where to go to retrieve an item. That’s a good system if all goes perfectly. But what happens if the robot doesn’t quite put the pallet back all the way, or if a box falls down in front of the robot? This is another scenario where you can use LiDAR to detect that situation to avoid any damage to these robots.

Bin Picking:

Bin picking is another area where LiDAR can help. If you’ve ever been in a major warehouse facility, you’ve seen the bins that the workers pick from manually. They use air proofing technologies with push buttons – the workers push the button to verify that they took the item from the correct bin. It’s expensive and time-consuming to set up this system. Quanergy’s technology improves upon this warehouse automation system by using LIDAR scanners to create virtual zones around the front of every bin. With this easy-to-set-up system, an alarm goes off if a worker picks from the wrong bin. This increases pick time and accuracy, with greater air proofing. 

Loading docks: 

When there are distribution centers with hundreds of doors, warehouse workers need to know when the trucks have arrived and are ready to roll up the doors, for a variety of reasons. They don’t want forklifts falling out. As much as possible, they don’t want to let out environmental air for heating and cooling. Oftentimes, truck drivers sit in the truck for a while before they have to hike in and tell the staff which bay they’re at. 

Today, there are sensors on every door. They have to wire every door, and sensors are very expensive. Now a single sensor mounted on the building side can monitor many doors, verify when trucks arrive and notify the workers where the trucks are. This significantly increases efficiency at distribution centers.  

Anti-Collision Systems:

There are many applications requiring a simple zone presence detection of an object for collision avoidance. Quanergy’s M1 Edge LiDAR sensor has the capability to run QORTEX AWARE software directly onboard the sensor to enable the creation of zones to deliver a simple digital output.  The M1 Edge can output up to 3 digital I/O zones or up to 128 via Ethernet.  

Pallet/box dimensioning: 

When workers build and ship pallets today, they still use a tape measure. Not only is that time-consuming, but if you undersize those pallets, shipping companies will charge a significant penalty. To prevent this, the packers add two inches to their measurements, just to be on the safe side. That means they’re paying for the extra two inches of space they might not actually need. But if they could scan each pallet virtually, not only would they save time, but they could save money on their shipping costs because they’d be getting an accurate volume of that pallet. This is in trials now using our LiDAR.

Using LiDAR for port automation:

Workers offloading raw bulk materials from a docked ship manually inspect the products, putting their safety at risk and reducing operating efficiency. The LiDAR system from Quanergy includes a 360-degree scanning range, a dense point cloud for greater resolution and 3D object visualization. These capabilities enable cranes to detect volumetric amounts of bulk material and its location, allowing for a virtual 3D representation of all the material.  Workers can have a clear, accurate visual display of the operation area with this data, allowing for full loading/unloading automation and soft-landing. All of this can be done rapidly with LiDAR while increasing worker safety.

Industrial LiDAR: Versatile and valuable

Industrial automation has become a competitive necessity today. It saves money and time, as well as increasing efficiency, accuracy and safety. From SLAM Robot Navigation to every other aspect of warehouse automation, LiDAR is an amazingly versatile and valuable technology. It’s time to think about how this technology can improve your processes – and your bottom line. 

Tags:  Industrial