Luka-Beverage – AI-based mobile handling assistant for beverage logistics

© Mojin Robotics, Felix Bezler
Im Projekt »Luka-Beverage« sind Technologien für das roboterbasierte Greifen von Getränkeflaschen und -kisten entstanden.

In short

“Luka-Beverage” is a service robot for handling bottles and heavy crates in retail stores. Using new AI methods and a 3-D navigation system, the robot knows exactly where goods are located and can move autonomously without risk of collision.

In detail

With “Luka-Beverage”, the team of project partners developed a service robot that helps to handle bottles of beverages and heavy drinks crates. Particularly in the day-to-day business of the food and beverage trade, there is plenty of scope for optimization by automating processes. After all, about 530 million drinks crates are in constant circulation throughout Europe. However, designing a suitable automation solution for this field is a challenging task. Confined spaces, dynamic and unstructured environments, such as those found in beverage warehouses, make it difficult to use service robots. High loads of up to 20 kilograms per piece are another hurdle that not all of today’s service robots can handle.

To overcome these challenges, experts at Mojin Robotics and Fraunhofer IPA developed a suitable gripping system for the mobile “Luka” platform from Mojin Robotics, which had already existed as a prototype. Utilizing new AI methods for object localization, the service robot knows exactly where bottles and crates are located, even in unstructured environments. As a result, the service robot can precisely plan how to pick up the heavy objects. By integrating a 3-D navigation system from Node Robotics, the robot not only finds its way around autonomously but also creates a 3-D map of the open workspace. “Luka-Beverage” can navigate and move its arm without any risk of collision, even if a sensor fails to see an obstacle.

At the end of 2021, the project partners completed a first prototype capable of stacking mixed and empty pallets and handling bottles of beverages. The partner company Node Robotics, for example, contributed navigation software for transport robots, which is already in use in the automotive industry. The partners Ensinger Mineral-Heilquellen and aktiv markt Manfred Gebauer provided use cases to support the test runs. The task of “Luka-Beverage” at Ensinger was to take bottles out of sorted crates, make up mixed crates of beverages as required, and stack them on a pallet. At Gebauer, it was used to pick up crates full of empty bottles from the returns conveyor and stack them appropriately on pallets.

The project partners were largely satisfied with the test results. They were able to overcome some major technical hurdles for the use of the enhanced “Luka” robot in the target applications. However, there are still further development needs. These relate, for example, to the gripper and its process reliability and also to the payload of the robot arm, which is not yet optimal for the robot to be used economically. Nevertheless, the project results achieved are encouraging, and the project partners assume that the subsequent development steps and measures already specified will very likely lead to success.

Overview of the project

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© Mojin Robotics
“Luka-Beverage” is commissioning mixed beverage crates at Ensinger's warehouse.
© Mojin Robotics
Here at Gebauer, the service robot is picking up crates full of empty bottles from the returns conveyor.

Partners involved in the Luka-Beverage project

Project partner

Role in the project

Fraunhofer IPA

Project coordination, development of object recognition technology, grasp planning, support with visual navigation, integration and user tests

NODE Robotics GmbH

Development of visual navigation technology, support with integration and user tests

Mojin Robotics GmbH

Hardware development, especially gripping system, system integration, commissioning, safety, user tests

Ensinger Mineral-Heilquellen

End user for making up mixed crates of beverages and stacking them on pallets

aktiv markt Manfred
Gebauer GmbH 

End user for handling and palletizing empties

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