Meet "Laura" the delivery robot - ITS anchor project

Tests of driverless shuttle with robot underway in Hamburg Metropolitan Region
07 October 2021
Transportroboter Laura, Institut für Technische Logistik/TUHH, 14.9.21

Robots are likely to become everyday soon. Yet, meeting them on a bus can make for a unique encounter unless you happen to be in Lauenburg in the Hamburg Metropolitan Region. The driverless TaBuLa shuttle minibus releases ramps at bus stops to let "Laura" the delivery robot on board. Then, passengers find themselves travelling with a robot.

 

ITS anchor project "TaBuLa-LOG"

"Laura transports internal post for various authorities," said Dr. Johannes Hinckeldeyn, Technical Manager of Lauenburg's Automated Robot Delivery aka Laura. As part of the TaBuLa-LOG (Test Center for Autonomous Buses in the Duchy of Lauenburg County with a Logistics Component), people and goods are transported aboard driverless shuttles. Laura, developed by the Institute of Technical Logistics at the Technical University of Hamburg, transports goods. This combination of driverless shuttle and robot is unique among the 42 anchor projects to go on show during the ITS World Congress in Hamburg from October 11-15, 2021. 

Dr. Johannes Hinckeldeyn, Manager of Laura Project
© Institute of Technical Logistics at TUHH
Dr. Johannes Hinckeldeyn, Manager of Laura Project
Laura

Up close and personal with a robot

Apart from the technical feasibility, researchers are focusing on public acceptance of the project, which runs through late 2022. "How do people react when a robot comes aboard making for a close encounter? Laura has several sensors to gauge such contact. For basic navigation, a laser scanner on the top of the robot is linked with a map," Hinckeldeyn pointed out. "Additionally, 3D close range stereo cameras identify street lanterns or parked cars and two stereo cameras scan the safety area so Laura can stop immediately, if need be." Fine positioning allows the robot to board the bus from a ramp. "Ultrasonic sensors navigate centimetre by centimetre and ensure that Laura doesn't accidentally run over a dog's tail," he grinned.  

Public transport to extend robot's delivery range

Given the boom in online sales and deliveries, Laura could ultimately reduce the volume of traffic. Public transport could extend the robot's parcel delivery range. "The TaBuLa shuttle acts as a mother ship, drives the delivery robots close to their actual destination, lets them off at bus stops to drive the last mile. The robot delivers the goods and gets back on the bus again," Hinckeldeyn noted. The shuttle thus extends the robot's delivery range. 

Laura at the ITS World Congress

The choice of Lauenburg was by no means coincidental. "The TaBuLa-Shuttle project, which started in 2018, tests autonomous driving in small towns," said Hinckeldeyn. The medieval old town with big pavements, narrow alleys, winding streets with steep and long hills and a busy main road dotted with traffic lights poses several interesting challenges for researchers. Tests of the delivery robot's driving behaviour on Lauenburg's cobblestones are underway, but an attendant still has to steer Laura manually. "At the same time, we are rolling out the various functions of autonomous driving and are working on legal approval." Everything should be ready in time for the ITS World Congress, which should be another challenge for Laura. "Let's see how Laura navigates a sea of legs," he remarked.

Laura the delivery robot
© Institute for Technical Logistics/TUHH
Laura and her attendant

Part of Hamburg's ITS strategy

The TaBuLa, TaBuLa-LOG and Laura projects are among ITS research projects underway in the Hamburg Metropolitan Region. They have received EUR 3.7 million in funds from the German Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure as part of the "Automated and Connected Driving" and "Sustainable Mobility System for the Future through Automated Driving and Networking".
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ITS World Congress Hamburg 2021

The leading ITS World Congress on intelligent transport gets underway in Hamburg under the theme of "Experience Future Mobility Now" from October 11 to 15, 2021. The Hanseatic city and its partners will present the latest trends in digitalisation, mobility and logistics. Emphasis will be on networked transport and smart logistics of the future. Visitors can glimpse the future on the free public day on October 14, 2021. Those interested must have registered earlier. The city has earmarked 42 out of 200 ITS projects as anchors that are particularly important for achieving its objectives. These so-called anchor projects include the Hamburg Electric Autonomous Transportation (HEAT) autonomous shuttle bus  and the cycle traffic counting network with thermal imaging cameras. The ITS World Congress is part of the strategy adopted by the senate in 2016 through 2030.