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Research and Testing of an Innovative and Ruggedized Autonomous Guided Vehicle (AGV) with State-of-the-Art Indoor-Outdoor Navigation Capability


TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Electronics, Information Systems, Sensors


Develop an innovative and ruggedized Autonomous Guided Vehicle (AGV) with a state-of-the-art indoor-outdoor navigation capability. The AGV may use a variety of sensors such as Global Positioning System (GPS), Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR), and Wireless Fiber (Wi-Fi) where applicable, and should minimize the need for infrastructure modifications such as Augmented Reality (AR) tags to enable autonomous navigation in changing environments.

Objective 0: Indoor-Outdoor AGV. Develop an AGV that combines the features of both the outdoor and indoor AGVs described below. The goal of this objective is for the vendor to develop a capability for an AGV that addresses the requirements for a rugged Outdoor AGV, as described in Objective 1 below, with a state-of-the-art outdoor navigation solution and integrate this capability with an Indoor AGV design, as described in Objective 2 below, that provides for indoor GPS-denied navigation, and the capability to ascend and descend warehouse tunnel inclines while towing loaded warehouse carts, and can smoothly transition between warehouse floors, tunnels, and racks. If that proves too difficult, proposals for separate indoor and outdoor AGV will be considered.

Objective 1: Outdoor AGV. Develop an innovative and rugged Outdoor AGV with a state-of-the-art outdoor navigation solution integrated into warehouse communications systems (i.e., Warehouse Execution System (WES)). This integration allows Outdoor AGVs to receive tasking in an automated fashion to operate frequently and report success or failure at tasking. This research seeks to identify and test navigational technology that can be used uninterruptedly and continuously onboard AGVs in support of routine external warehouse operations throughout the DLA enterprise. This research effort addresses DLA identified cybersecurity requirements through the test and evaluation of government security controls. It leverages current technologies in the AGV industry combined with a suitable and robust external navigation solution to test the operation of AGVs when operating externally between distribution warehouses. This research project will operate in external environments at designated DLA Distribution Centers in the United States.

Objective 2: Indoor AGV. Develop a robust AGV that operates inside warehouses and within warehouse tunnels and navigates the tunnel inclines found at the DLA Distribution Center, Hill Air Force Base, and UT (DDHU). The Indoor AGV design allows for the ascent and descent of tunnel inclines with up to 12 in a 100 grade (+/- 12%), the smooth transition between warehouse floors and tunnels, the navigation of sharp turns (180 degrees or more) requiring a minimum turning radius of 1.9 meters, and possess a threshold capability to tow two standard warehouse carts with a total combined weight of 12,000 pounds and a maximum tow capability of up to three standard warehouse carts with a total combined weight of up to 18,000 pounds (i.e., the weight of three loaded carts) given all conditions and requirements described above. The Indoor AGV's state-of-the-art indoor navigation system will continuously operate within DLA Distribution Warehouses, will be integrated into warehouse automation systems, and communicates with WES

Research and Development efforts selected under this topic shall demonstrate and involve a degree of risk where the technical feasibility of the proposed work has not been fully established. Further, proposed efforts must be judged to be at a Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 6 or less, but greater than TRL 3 to receive funding consideration.

TRL 3. (Analytical and Experimental Critical Function and/or Characteristic Proof of Concept)

TRL 6. (System/Subsystem Model or Prototype Demonstration in a Relevant Environment)


Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) Distribution Modernization Program (DMP) topics of interest are research focused on a Continental United States-based AGV navigation solution in support of the routine navigation of vehicles operating both outdoors between DLA distribution warehouses, indoors within the DLA warehouses, and when traversing warehouse tunnels. This research project shall involve the use of Commercial/Industry AGVs that can withstand the demands of both outdoor and indoor operations, ascend/descend warehouse tunnels, and be integrated with outdoor and indoor-based navigation systems utilizing various sensors such as GPS, LS, Wi-Fi, and LiDAR that:

  1. Support a joint effort between DLA Research and Development (R&D) and DLA J4 Distribution Headquarters to conduct research and testing of navigation systems integrated into a variety of AGVs during outdoor operations between warehouses and when towing loaded carts operating indoors within tunnels with 12 in a 100 grade (+/- 12%) grades.
  2. Significantly addresses the navigational capabilities of AGVs in the outdoor environment, while enhancing resiliency to the varying conditions of an outdoor environment (e.g., less than desirable road conditions, road debris, and inclement weather conditions present when operating outdoors - snow, rain, fog, or sunshine).
  3. The AGV can be used in the outdoor environment to transport goods between multiple warehouses at a DLA distribution site safely and operate at a higher materiel handling throughput, even under challenging road and weather conditions.
  4. Feature navigation systems able to implement high precision measurement data for regular use in outdoor/indoor navigation.
  5. Can operate indoors using a state-of-the-art indoor navigation system (e.g., LiDAR) that allows AGVs to continuously work within DLA's Distribution Warehouses and seamlessly transition between the outdoor and indoor warehouse environments.
  6. Can integrate into warehouse communications systems such as a Warehouse Execution System (WES) to receive tasking and report status.
  7. Allows AGVs to operate on inclines and ascend and descend warehouse tunnels with up to 12 in a 100 grade (+/- 12%) when safely transporting goods inside warehouses and between multiple warehouses at DLA distribution sites, and implement high precision measurement data for regular use, even under challenging road and weather conditions.
  8. Able to transition smoothly between level and elevated warehouse surfaces, can navigate sharp turns within the warehouse environment, and can tow up to three loaded standard warehouse carts weighing up to 18,000 pounds.
  9. Demonstrates an enhanced operational capability over existing commercial AGVs when both outdoors and indoors through the application of external navigation and internal navigation systems for AGVs, and facilitates a safe and robust navigational network technology used in a working environment shared with warehouse workers.
  10. Navigation and mapping:
    • Equipped with a dependable and robust navigation technology solution that allows AGVs to perform tasks outdoors and indoors without having to significantly lower operating speeds per existing trends in the industry.
    • Demonstrates compatibility with a Government data cloud environment for storage, retrieval, and use of high-resolution geospatial data without relying on a separate commercial data cloud environment to navigate successfully.
  11. Conclusively demonstrates the use of new navigation technology and the use of more capable AGV designs for ascending and descending inclines when applied to AGVs in the distribution and delivery of material and goods during representative distribution warehouse operations in an innovative way.
  12. Integrates a Universal Ball Hitch connection for trailers with automatic coupling by the autonomous vehicle.
  13. Operates with a typical design load and all-terrain capabilities in outdoor temperatures of 10F through 100F, and adequately quantifies lost battery performance in temperatures below 40F, and implements measures to insulate batteries to address lost performance.
  14. Executes a minimum 7.5-hr duty cycle at the full performance before re-charge. 30-minute quick charge from 0% to 50% charge.


  • Phase I: NTE 12 Months $150K- Base NTE $100K base 6 Months, - Option 1 NTE $50K base 6 Months
  • PHASE II: Phase II - NTE 24 Months $1.6M - Base 12-18 months, $1M Option 6 Months NTE $.6M


The research and development goals of Phase I provide Small Business eligible Research and Development firms the opportunity to successfully demonstrate how their proposed Outdoor and Indoor AGV navigation concept of operations (CONOPS) improves the distribution and goods and materials within the DLA distribution enterprise and effectively lessen the time to provide needed supplies to the Warfighter. The selected vendor will conduct a feasibility study to:

  1. Address the requirements described above in the Description Section above for Outdoor AGVs operating between warehouses and Indoor AGVs traversing warehouse tunnel elevations.
  2. Identify capability gap(s) and the requirement for DLA to use AGVs in the DLA Distribution Operations environment.
  3. Develop the vendor's Concept of Operations (CONOPS) for the utilization of the AGVs and describe clearly how the requirements develop from it.

Note: During Phase I of the SBIR, testing is not required.

The vendor is required to create a CONOPS for Outdoor/Indoor AGVs in support of both routine and wartime distribution warehouse operations. The concept of operations will cover the utilization of rugged Outdoor AGVs to navigate between distribution warehouses during all weather and road conditions, and then seamlessly (with little or no operator effort) be able to operate as an Indoor AGV in the indoor warehouse environment, describing precisely all operational requirements as part of this process. This AGV navigation requirement intends to successfully operate and navigate between distribution warehouses dependent on weather conditions.

The deliverables for this project include a final report, including a cost breakdown of courses of action.


Based on the research and the concept of operations developed during Phase I, the research and development goals of Phase II emphasizes the execution of the seamless Indoor-Outdoor AGV navigation system following the typical DLA Distribution Warehouse concept of operations for materiel handling. During Phase II, the vendor will:

  1. Address the specific user requirements, functional requirements, and system requirements as defined and provided by DLA.
  2. Develop a prototype AGV for Developmental Test and Evaluation (DT-amp;E) and Operational Test and Evaluation (OT-amp;E).
  3. Implement government cybersecurity controls in the prototype design and secure all necessary cybersecurity certifications for the operation of the equipment in the DLA warehouse environment with DOD cloud connections.
  4. Design the prototype that is equal to the technology maturity of Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 9 after Phase II.
  5. Deliver a final AGV prototype to DLA that is capable of demonstrating successful execution of the CONOPS established in Phase I.

The AGVs will operate across the United States at various DLA Distribution Center sites mutually agreed upon between DLA R-amp;D and DLA Distribution HQ. The deliverables for this project include a final report, including a cost breakdown of courses of action (COAs).


At this point, there is no specific funding associated with Phase III. During Phase I and Phase II, the progress made should result in a vendor's qualification as an approved source for an Indoor-Outdoor AGV or as a source for both an Indoor AGV and Outdoor AGV support enabling participation in future procurements.

COMMERCIALIZATION: The manufacturer will pursue the commercialization of the various ruggedized Outdoor AGV navigation technologies, the Indoor AGV operating technology, and designs developed for ascending/descending tunnel inclines, and the processes developed in prior phases as well as potential commercial sales of manufactured mechanical parts or other items. The first path for commercial use will be at DLA's twenty-six Distribution Centers and twenty Disposition Centers. When fielded, DLA estimates the deployment of 20 - 26 units, but the number of units could be more.

KEYWORDS: Autonomous Guided Vehicle, AGV, GPS, Laser Scanning, Wireless Fiber, Wi-Fi, Warehouse, Distribution.


1. Department of Defense, Defense Science Board, Task Force Report: The Role of Autonomy in DOD Systems in DOD Systems, July 2012.

2. R. Bostelman and E. Messina, "Towards Development of an Automated Guided Vehicle Intelligence Level Performance Standard," in Autonomous Industrial Vehicles: From the Laboratory to the Factory Floor, ed. R. Bostelman and E. Messina (West Conshohocken, PA: ASTM International, 2016), 1-22.

3. A. Dong, W. Hong, "VPH: a new laser radar-based obstacle avoidance method for intelligent mobile robots," WCICA 2004. Fifth World Congress on Intelligent Control and Automation, vol. 5, pp. 4681-4685, 2004.

4. A. K. Kar, N. K. Dhar, S. S. F. Nawaz, R. Chandola and N. K. Verma, "Automated guided vehicle navigation with obstacle avoidance in normal and guided environments," 2016 11th International Conference on Industrial and Information Systems (ICIIS), Roorkee, 2016, pp. 77-82

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