ANTs – A System for Future Agile Container Handling
Today goods are being transported across and around our globe every day of the week. A majority of this is done with large containerships that connect our continents, some with more than 20000 containers on board and these ships are getting bigger in the future.
With current harbor equipment it is hardly possible to handle these amounts. Logistical challenges arise within the harbor but also for railway or trucking companies that will continue the transport of the cargo outside the harbor area.
So, what if we would rethink how our harbors work today?
The ANT concept is a swarm network of fully autonomous and electrical cargo handling robots. Together with a system of synchronized gantries which provide tracks for the ANTs, they offer a system and a new solution of intelligent loading, unloading and transporting of containers.
Instead of using different types of equipment like cranes, container tractors, reach stackers, container handlers, trucks and transferring the cargo from one to another, the ANTs can pick up containers directly from the docked ship and transport these all the way to the targeted place in the storage area or to the waiting truck that will take the container to its final destination.
Collectively, the ANTs accelerate the logistic process within and around the harbor in a faster, more seamless and sustainable way.
A people centered approach was utilized to experience and explore the workday activities and behaviors of the different user groups working at the harbor. Onsite observations at the harbor of Hamburg, user interviews, factory tours and testing existing transport solutions up close, provided valuable insights in order to identify relevant design opportunities. This provided an overview of the complex process and the fleet of different vehicles and solutions that are used today.
The increasing size of container ships and the demand for a higher throughput and handling of containers, creates a bottleneck in our contemporary harbors. Most of the existing harbors and their layouts are simply not designed for handling these super ships. Problems arise within the harbor but also around the ports and in the surround urban areas due to traffic overload due to ground transports between terminals and close by warehouses.
"The workflow is unpredictable because the vessels are getting too big. That is very stressful for the harbor and the environment. It was much easier back in the days." Michél Ecks, a terminal operator explained.
The aim for this project was to create an end-to-end product system solution. To decrease the inefficient number of container-moves and to conceptualize a solution to handle the growing amount of cargo in the future.
How does it work?
The ANT concept a system of fully autonomous and electrical cargo handling units that work together through swarm robotics. Instead of using different machines to relocate the cargo step-by-step, the ANT can pick up containers directly from the docked ship and move them to the designated destination for the specific container. Anticipating gantries are in a constant flow and provide streamlined routes for each ANT. Comparable with the swarm intelligence of ants in the nature, this cognitive system works together to achieve a new and more efficient loading and unloading process.
The ANTs can connect to nearby terminals and warehouses, while at the same time eliminating the truck traffic on the ground and in the public streets.
Thanks to a modular and symmetrical design, the core unit of the ANT can in theory be refigured and work a ground transport vehicle. By replacing the track module with wheels and the spreader with a bearing element the ANT could fulfill transport tasks on the ground as well.
The intension with the product design was to create a form that had a character that expressed being reliable, agile and responsive. An effort was also done to make the front parts of the ANT to semantically expressing the intelligence and individual personality of each unit.