What is an Automated Guided Vehicle?

Automated guided vehicles are the driverless vehicles we didn’t know we had. Here’s how they work.
Written by Alex Reale
Reviewed by Serena Aburahma
Tesla’s valiant attempts
, truly self-driving cars haven’t quite made it to market yet, and likely won’t for some time.
If you’re disappointed by this, perhaps the futurist in you could be appeased by something a little smaller? But be warned—there’s no “driver” to speak of.
takes a look at automated guided vehicles.

WALL-E, window to the concept

Pixar’s 2008 film WALL-E, a multidimensional love story set in a dystopian future, features a whole lot of automation. Robots run the show. They ferry goods around, drive ships, and do all essential (and non-essential…the cosmetician robots are pretty great) tasks. 
In several scenes, floods of robots speed quickly along predetermined paths, weaving and bobbing their way seamlessly through big corridors to accomplish their missions.
It’s mesmerizing to watch. How could all that chaotic movement not result in chaos? But before you conclude that this frictionless future is hopelessly out of reach, take heart: we already have this in the present. Meet the automated guided vehicle.

What does an automated guided vehicle do?

Automated guided vehicles, or AGVs, are “computer-controlled and wheel-based…load carriers that travel along the floor of a facility without an onboard operator or driver,” as defined by
Like the robots in WALL-E, they have set paths that they follow, and their software makes them very good drivers. Often used on factory floors or in warehouses, AGVs also use lasers and sensors to navigate safe and efficient paths as they transport cargo.
MHI shares a few examples of common types of AGVs. Automated carts are at the lower end of the complexity tier. 
They look like tiny, flattened pickup trucks, and they get the job done at minimal cost. Unit load AGVs are great for carrying pallets or other loads to and from conveyors. They’re built to fit into these ports easily and manage heavy materials. 
And tugger AGVs do exactly what you might expect them to do: they tug loads around. Some of them look like rolling office printers, if your office printer was incredibly strong and on wheels.

The AGV advantage

Automated guided vehicles are advantageous in the world of manufacturing for a variety of reasons. MHI notes that they reduce operating costs with their choreographed movements—eliminating collisions means reducing maintenance. 
Additionally, product costs go down, thanks to the robots’ tender handling of their wares. Finally, AGVs allow for greater flexibility in scheduling, safety, and scalability, which means many fewer headaches for warehouse and factory managers. 
We owe a lot of the efficiency in our systems to AGVs. And though they aren’t the driverless vehicles that we thought we were getting, they’re still pretty darn fun to watch. WALL-E definitely got that one right.
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