Fuel Cells for Small-Scale Industrial Robotics
Small-scale industrial robotics is a burgeoning market in logistics and warehousing, enabling businesses to operate with increased accuracy, speed and efficiency. It’s also a space that demands high asset utilization from its equipment. Clean hydrogen fuel cells are able to further increase productivity due to constant power and fast fueling attributes. Fuel cells are already being used to power industrial robotics and this capability will only grow.
Simply put, AGVs are the industrial equivalent of driverless industrial electric vehicles, and are being powered by fuel cells for Plug Power’s material handling customers today. An AGV – or automated guided vehicle – is a mobile robot that can travel around a darkened facility delivering parts or products from storage to manufacturing to shipping, increasing plant efficiency and enabling the humans on staff to do higher level tasks. Plug Power has been powering AGVs since 2011 – and about 15% of our deployed fuel cell products are used in AGVs by customers like Bridgestone, BMW, and Mercedes. Fuel cells increase electric AGV efficiency by enabling them to work a longer shift than those powered only by batteries before they need to be refueled.
Drones / UAVs
EnergyOr, a Plug Power company, developed the H2Quad multirotor unmanned aerial vehicle, and is a leader in fuel cells for UAVs, setting several world records for endurance flights through the use of their innovative, ultralightweight fuel cell technology. Hydrogen fuel cell-powered UAV solutions provide longer duration flights and the benefits of fast fueling, allowing customers to maximize the utilization of these assets. Fuel cell-powered drone technology allows companies to manage last mile delivery with increased predictability and efficiency.
Plug Power is innovating in the space of robotics and automation, specifically with a first-of-its-kind robotic hydrogen fueling technology for motive power applications. The immediate goal of the robotic fueling station is to increase the ease and efficiency of fueling hydrogen-powered vehicles in warehouse settings, where every second amounts to more than $1,000 in annual cost impact for medium to large sites.
Plug Power, in partnership with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) Center for Automation Technologies & Systems (CATS) and the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), have completed a pilot feasibility study for the robotic fueling station, which demonstrated the ability of the system to independently interconnect the fuel cell to the fueling station without human intervention. Alongside Plug Power’s engineering team, RPI CATS students developed the technology for the robotic fueling station pilot study, including the computer vision, sensors, robotic manipulation of the fueling nozzle, and remote controlling mechanisms.
Soon, the technology will be able to retrofit existing GenFuel sites and support the more than 25,000 GenDrive fuel cells in the field. In the future, the technology will be used in on-road fleet vehicles, autonomous guided vehicles (AGVs), and self-driving passenger cars.
Fuel Cells for Industrial Robotics Moving Forward
The future looks bright in the world of technology. From unmanned vehicles and drones to robots preparing our orders, we’re moving and developing these applications quickly. The growing anxiety about climate change is leading us to consider what these futuristic options may look like. Companies are thinking with a “green lens” when developing their next-gen ideas. Imagine a world where clean energy permeates everything in your shopping experience—from when you hit ‘complete order’ to the moment it’s delivered to your front door. Renewable energy companies have been fueling warehouse forklifts with clean energy for years, and they’re looking ahead to the future. These same alternative energies—namely, hydrogen fuel cells—will allow robots to pack your items, forklifts to move boxes around, and clean energy trucks/drones to deliver your goods. And the future is closer than you might think. Hydrogen fuel cell technology companies like Plug Power are already developing the latest technology to equip the smallest and largest electrical-devices and vehicles to drive us into the future. With a global robotics material handling market estimated at USD $29.6 billion in 2017, all indications are for heavy growth in the near term.