AI and autonomous robots at Munich Airport

Sci-Fi Becomes Reality: Munich Airport’s AI Cargo Robots

Researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics IML showcased groundbreaking AI and autonomous robots at Munich Airport on May 13th. This demonstration was part of the “Digital Testbed Air Cargo” (DTAC) project.

A “robot dog” patrolled the warehouse autonomously, searching for free storage locations. A dynamic transport robot moved pallets automatically, and a “segway robot” placed parcels from Euro-pallets onto a conveyor belt. These innovations were presented to high-ranking representatives from politics, industry, and media.

Robot dog at airport picks up cargo

“This was a convincing demonstration that shows that we are very well prepared for current and future challenges. This is particularly important in the air cargo industry. The industry has to manage the split between shortage of staff on the one hand and high throughput rates on the other. This will only be successful if we make use of all the technological developments available to us for process optimization,” Christian Bernreiter, Bavarian State Minister for Housing, Construction and Transport, emphasized.

Dr. Jan-Henrik Andersson, Chief Commercial Officer & Chief Security Officer of Munich Airport, was also very positive about the research results to date: “The cooperation between Fraunhofer IML and Munich Airport is future-oriented. Considering the increasing volume of air cargo and the staff recruitment challenges, digitalization and robotics will help us make cargo and baggage handling more efficient and jobs in these areas more attractive in the near future.”

The DTAC project, funded by the German Federal Ministry for Digital and Transport with 7 million euros, runs until September 2024. It aims to optimize air freight transport efficiency through better networking and digitalization. Autonomous devices were used to take over labor-intensive tasks or assist employees in physically demanding work.

AI and autonomous robots at Munich Airport

The “robot dog” Spot from Boston Dynamics identified large storage pallets and their locations. An autonomous forklift transported pallets to the automated high-bay warehouse. The omnidirectional robot O³dyn transported Euro-pallets to a neighboring warehouse.

automated vehicles carry cargo

The evoBOT, developed by Fraunhofer IML, placed packages from Euro-pallets onto a conveyor belt for X-ray screening and back onto the pallet after screening. These processes were controlled by Fraunhofer’s “openTCS” software, coordinating automated guided vehicles (AGVs).

Although not all processes were fully autonomous during the demonstration, researchers believe automation in air cargo handling will increase rapidly. Prof. Michael Henke, Executive Director of Fraunhofer IML, noted that AI will help coordinate and control vehicles, making air cargo handling fully autonomous in the future.

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