VisionNav demonstrates VNST20 PRO trailer loading/unloading at MODEX 2024

Vision Nav VNST20 PRO demo at MODEX 2024.
The VNST20 PRO autonomous fork truck can unload pallets from containers and trailers. | Credit: Vision Nav

VisionNav Robotics USA Inc. today launched the VNST20 PRO, the latest automatic system for loading and unloading trailer trucks. At MODEX 2024, it demonstrated the new automated guided vehicle, or AGV, moving pallets of goods from a container.

“Boosting overall work efficiency and safety, the VNST20 PRO is at the cutting edge of AGV robotics technology, revolutionizing cargo handling to enable loading or unloading a trailer truck in as little as 45 minutes,” stated Don Dong, vice president of global sales at VisionNav Robotics. “This is a new approach to trailer truck loading and unloading.”

Houston-based VisionNav Robotics said its autonomous forklifts use machine learning, environmental perception, and servo control technologies in hundreds of facilities worldwide. The company claimed that its AGVs have performed more than 9 million operations, including pallet storage, narrow-aisle navigation, and multi-layer cage stacking.

VisionNav added that Fortune 500 companies in automotive, food, petrochemical, e-commerce, third-party logistics, pharmaceuticals, and other industries use its robots to improve safety and efficiency, as well as “future-proof” their operations.


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Trailer unloading is a challenging task

VisionNav Robotics said its system has been designed to flexibly automate materials handling tasks in trailer trucks. The new VisionNav VNST20 PRO is built on the VNST20 autonomous forklift base and includes an advanced Robot Control System (RCS) for fleet scheduling.

The AGV also includes 3D lidar simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) for obstacle avoidance and perception.

While navigating into the rear of the trailer, the VNST20 PRO needs to identify the location of each pallet in the trailer, find the fork entry point for pick, and then determine the best approach path to safely acquire a loaded pallet.

From there, the VNST20 PRO will lift the pallet and navigate out of the trailer and to a drop location inside of the warehouse loading dock, explained VisionNav.

Autonomous trailer unloading poses several challenges, noted the company, including:

  1. The VNST20 PRO has to cross the gap between the trailer and the loading dock without getting its wheels stuck or shifting a loaded pallet when exiting the trailer. Each trailer entry point is slightly different, depending on trailer ride height and load. Each loading bay in a loading dock might also have different trailer loading ramps.
  2. Loads can shift during transport, resulting in a different challenge for each pallet removal. The system has to have the sensors and intelligence to understand the “scene” inside of the trailer and locate a feasible approach path to pick each pallet up.
  3. The loading dock is susceptible to the weather just outside of the dock, including extreme temperature swings, and the incursion of rain, snow, ice, wind, dust, and direct sunlight. All of these weather effects can interact with the sensors onboard the AGV or the surface of the loading dock and ramps.

Until the past year or two, trailer unloading was considered a “holy grail” robotic application because of these challenges. However, VisionNav has joined a growing number of companies that have addressed the problem in a variety of ways.

VisionNav VNST20 PRO AGV hero image.
The VNST20 PRO is capable of autonomous trailer loading and unloading. | Credit: VisionNav

Fleet manager schedules, controls robot operations

VNST20 PRO is equipped with a robust RCS to maximize loading rates, devise optimal delivery routes, and generate efficient loading and offloading strategies. Operators can monitor the unloading process remotely, said VisionNav Robotics.

The new AMR can adapt to diverse trucks, goods, and environments, using self-adaptive perception for unstructured environments and dynamic mapping for routing in containers, the company added. It is compatible with a wide range of trucks in North America and Europe and can be tailored to a variety of pallets, including EPAL and CHEP.

“We demonstrated VNST20 PRO at work at our stand at MODEX 2024, alongside four-sided LED hanging screens,” said Dong.

“This immersive experience provided visitors to the show with the opportunity to see the full capabilities of our trailer truck loading and unloading solution and how it can work for them,” he added. “This is the first time VNST20 PRO has been demonstrated anywhere in the world, and the response has been very positive.”

Users can easily switch the VNST20 PRO into manual mode to prevent delays, said VisionNav. The company said it plans to make the VNST20 PRO available in the U.S. in 2025.

Key features of VisionNav’s VNST20 PRO:

  • Rated load capacity of 2,000 kg (4,409 lb.)
  • Cargo top clearance of 150 mm (5 ft., 9 in.)
  • Gap between goods of 0 to 30 mm (0 to 1.2 m)
  • Minimum turning radius of 1,431 mm (56.3 ft.)
  • 45 minutes loading/unloading without needing a recharge

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Written by

Mike Oitzman

Mike Oitzman is Senior Editor of WTWH's Robotics Group, cohost of The Robot Report Podcast, and founder of the Mobile Robot Guide. Oitzman is a robotics industry veteran with 25-plus years of experience at various high-tech companies in the roles of marketing, sales and product management. He can be reached at moitzman@wtwhmedia.com.