Skoda drone

Czech carmaker Škoda is trialling an autonomous drone to identify and count containers outside its factory in Mladá Boleslav. The goal is for drone-assisted stocktaking to become a regular feature of operations in the medium term.

“We are continuously working on improving the efficiency of our everyday production processes and making work easier for our employees,” said Michael Oeljeklaus, Škoda Auto’s board member for production and logistics. “Drones assist with and speed up the stocktaking process. As a key pillar of our [corporate] 2025 Strategy, such processes will take place completely automatically in everyday operations in future.”

The unmanned machine, first deployed at the car assembly plant last May, results from Škoda’s logistics department working with Robodrone Industries, which has produced drones for industrial use since 2013.

During the current testing phase, the drone autonomously records the number of empty containers outside a factory hall in Mladá Boleslav three times per day. The data is automatically transferred to Škoda’s logistics department’s IT systems to be processed.

As GPS is not precise enough to determine the containers’ locations, the drone is equipped with a lidar (light detection and ranging) sensor, which captures up to 300,000 images per second, to accurately measure speed and distance, said the carmaker.

The drone navigates using a 3D map, created using the lidar technology, while simultaneously detecting and counting containers all thanks to algorithms, Škoda added.

The company developed algorithms specifically for use at Mladá Boleslav with Brno-based Robdrone, as the technology was not available on the market. The investment cost Škoda around €200,000.

Based on the drone maker’s six-rotor Kingfisher model, the device being used at the car plant can fly up to 20kmph and carry a load of up to 5kg.

In a second development phase, Škoda says,the Kingfisher will get its own ‘nest’, so the battery-powered machine can then autonomously navigate to a charging station. It will also be equipped with a weather station to provide information on weather conditions at short notice.

The future of the automotive logistics sector in Central and Eastern Europe will be discussed in detail at this autumn’s inaugural Automotive Logistics Central and Eastern Europe summit which takes place November 13-14 in Budapest.