Mar 16, 2021

Volkswagen backs electric vehicles with 6 battery factories

Electric Vehicles
battery tech
autonomous vehicles
Volkswagen
William Smith
2 min
The so-called gigafactories are intended to unlock synergies in Volskwagen’s supply chain and thus bring down the price of electric vehicles
The so-called gigafactories are intended to unlock synergies in Volskwagen’s supply chain and thus bring down the price of electric vehicles...

Volkswagen has announced its intention to build six electric vehicle battery-cell manufacturing plants in Europe.

The so-called gigafactories are intended to unlock synergies in Volskwagen’s supply chain and thus bring down the price of electric vehicles for consumers, with all expected to be established by the end of the decade. Mooted locations include Sweden and Germany.

“We aim to reduce the cost and complexity of the battery and at the same time increase its range and performance”, said Thomas Schmall, Volkswagen Group Board Member for Technology. 

“We will use our economies of scale to the benefit of our customers when it comes to the battery too. On average, we will drive down the cost of battery systems to significantly below €100 per kilowatt hour. This will finally make e-mobility affordable and the dominant drive technology.”

Automotive or technology companies?

The announcement took place at its inaugural Power Day event, which is hard to place as anything other than a direct response to Tesla - which has risen to become far and away the most valuable car company thanks to its technological and electric approach.

Indeed, Tesla’s innovations such as over-the-air updates are being adopted by manufacturers including Volkswagen as they transition to becoming technology companies, at least in part. In recent times we’ve seen Volkswagen start offering its industrial cloud and its IoT, machine learning and data analytics capabilities to other manufacturing and technology companies.

Repairing Volkswagen’s green image

The announcement was also part of ongoing efforts from Volkswagen to try and repair its green credentials following the scandal that emerged in 2015 which revealed the company had been fudging emissions tests in the US to fool regulators.

“E-mobility has become [a] core business for us. We are now systematically integrating additional stages in the value chain. We secure a long-term pole position in the race for the best battery and best customer experience in the age of zero emission mobility”, said Herbert Diess, Chairman of the Board of Management of the Volkswagen Group.

(Image: Volkswagen)

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Jun 14, 2021

Amazon tests new technology to improve employee safety

Technology
Amazon
robots
Innovation
3 min
Amazon is testing new technologies in an effort to make handling packages safer for employees

At the Amazon Robotics and Advanced Technology labs in Boston, and Northern Italy, team members are testing and developing new technologies in order to help to make employees’ jobs safer, these include technologies that help move carts and packages through Amazon facilities.

Recently the safety of Amazon's warehouses has drawn scrutiny. On June 1, the Washington Post's Jay Greene and Chris Alcantara published findings from an analysis of Occupational Safety and Health Administration data showing Amazon's serious injury rates are nearly double those at other companies' facilities.

A spokesperson from Amazon said the company spent more than $1 billion last year on safety measures, and hired more than 6,200 employees to a group dedicated to workplace health and safety.

Motion-capture technology

One innovation being tested by Amazon, which is in early development, is the use of motion-capture technology to assess the movement of volunteer employees in a lab setting. These employees perform tasks that are common in many Amazon facilities, such as the movement of totes, which carry products through robotic fulfillment centers.

The motion-capture software enables Amazon scientists and researchers to more accurately compare data captured in a lab environment to industry standards rather than other modelling tools traditionally used by ergonomists.

“With this data, visualisations, and employee feedback, we are looking to identify relatively simple changes that can make a big impact,” said Kevin Keck, worldwide director of Advanced Technology at Amazon. “Something as simple as changing the position of handles on totes may help lower the risk of injuries to our employees at a massive scale.”

Autonomous Robots creating new paths to safety

In order to reduce the need for employees to reach up or bend down when retrieving items, Amazon is testing a new workstation system called “Ernie.” According to the company Ernie takes totes off of a robotic shelf and uses a robotic arm to deliver it to employees, so they can remain in a more comfortable and stable position.

“We’re known for being passionate about innovating for customers, but being able to innovate with robotics for our employees is something that gives me an extra kick of motivation each day,” said Keck. “The innovation with a robot like Ernie is interesting because while it doesn’t make the process go any faster, we’re optimistic, based on our testing, it can make our facilities safer for employees.”

“Bert” is one of Amazon’s first Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs), and is being tested to autonomously navigate through facilities with Amazon-developed advanced safety, perception, and navigation technology. In the future, it is thought that an employee would be able to summon Bert to carry items across a facility. 

‘Scooter’ and ‘Kermit’ are two other robots that also operate autonomously, and are both transport cars. The carts are used to carry empty totes and packages through our facilities. 

In a blog post the company said: ‘By having Autonomously Guided Carts (AGCs) like Scooter and Kermit perform physical tasks, we believe we can make our facilities safer and enable our employees to focus on jobs that require their critical thinking skills. In addition, using an AGC like Scooter to pull carts through our facilities reduces the risk of strains on our employees, or even collisions. We currently plan to deploy Scooter to at least one Amazon facility this year.’ 

Amazon began using robotics in its facilities in 2012, and since then they have added more than 1 million jobs worldwide while simultaneously deploying 350,000 mobile drive unit robots. 

“The role robotics and advanced technology can play in not only innovating for customers, but helping make our facilities safer, is a massive motivation for me and my team,” said Keck. “The health and safety of our employees is our number one priority. By listening to them, innovating on their behalf, and driving new technologies into our facilities over the coming months and years, I’m confident we’ll make a big contribution to our goal of reducing recordable incidents by 50% by 2025.”

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