Proving an autonomous fleet concept
We designed and built a scalable technology prototype for automating industrial equipment fleets
United Rentals wanted to explore the concept of autonomous industrial equipment to improve their equipment rental distribution centers, optimize customers’ operations, and create safer environments for their employees. Time taken to transport equipment from one location to another was excessive, and mechanical maintenance, wash-down, waiting for loading, and departure all involved manual operation. In addition to the time cost, these vehicles generate a hazardous environment that was only navigable by certified personnel authorized to operate the equipment.
There was an opportunity for United Rentals to research and develop leaders in the autonomous vehicles industry. We started with forklifts and genies, retrofitting them with sensors and controllers to make the vehicles fully autonomous, and used it as a proof of concept applied to United Rentals’ entire fleet of vehicles. The forklift was automated to deliver equipment from one station to the next continuously. The Genie was designed to be remotely controlled, freeing up mechanics, engineers, and technicians to focus on higher-value tasks.
Automating and optimizing distribution yard traffic
Distribution yards are crowded and busy spaces. With human operators who have multiple subtasks to consider, carefully navigating the yard is a challenge. We recognized that fewer autonomous forklifts would be necessary to deliver equipment from one station to the next continuously. The forklift prototype allowed us to research how to create seamless logistics, navigation, and sensor accuracy and then plan for scaling the solution to more vehicles.
Creating efficient, autonomous lift platforms
To apply the same concept to lifts, we implemented a control kit on a Genie. The kit allowed the Scissor Lift to drive via CAN bus commands. The technology was designed to be attached to existing scissor lifts with limited modifications of the equipment.
A proof of concept designed to scale
The forklift and genie prototypes allowed United Rentals to create and implement a viable Autonomous R&D program. Future working prototypes included an Autonomous Testing Robot, an Autonomous Compact Track Loader, and Autonomous Club Car.
United Rentals had the data they needed to extend variations of the core solution to their entire fleet.