VDA 5050 explained

an Overview of the evolving AGV Communication Standard

If you are in Europe and work with, or plan to invest, in automated guided vehicles (AGVs), you might have heard of VDA 5050. Especially if you are involved in the automotive sector. So, what is this standard? And how might it affect future AGV fleet operations? Below is our quick starter guide. 

What is VDA 5050?

VDA 5050 is a standardized interface for AGV communication. Specifically, this standard concerns the communication between AGVs (often called Fahrerloser Transportsysteme/Transportfahrzeuge (FTS) in Germany) and a master control (in other words, a fleet management software program).

What is its goal? 

Today, there are many different AGV manufacturers offering vehicles to the market. But, typically, these AGVs only work with their manufacturer’s own specific fleet management software. As soon as a customer requires AGVs from two or more different suppliers, this results in serious challenges, including:

  • Complex commissioning – a separate installation is needed for each brand of AGV
  • Interoperability issues – it becomes difficult to manage AGVs if they need to cross paths or share an elevator say
  • Lost space – separate AGV brands might need to use completely separate paths

Customers, however, want more. They are increasingly demanding that a fleet management solution should be capable of running a large and, more importantly, diverse fleet of AGVs – whatever the vehicle type or brand.

BlueBotics’ ANT® server software already enables the management of a diverse fleet of ANT® driven vehicles, no matter what the vehicle type (tractor, forklift, underride, etc.) or brand – provided these AGVs are built upon our ANT® lite+ navigation solution. VDA 5050 intends to provide a more generic version of this functionality, which would enable every compliant AGV to work together.

The goal of VDA 5050 is to enable every compliant automated guided vehicle (AGV) to work together via one fleet management software (left), rather than different master controllers being needed for each brand of AGV working on-site (right).

Who is behind VDA 5050?

It is the result of a collaboration between the German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA) and the VDMA Materials handling and Intralogistics Association. These associations are jointly coordinating the VDA 5050 project, which involves the VDA’s AGV user members as well as AGV manufacturer members of the VDMA, including BlueBotics.

What does it cover - in general?

VDA 5050 proposes a standard of communication between an AGV fleet manager (software) and any compliant AGVs being operated on-site.

As the VDMA’s website states, the project is about developing “a new interface with which driverless transport systems and control software can communicate with each other independently of manufacturers”.

Since it describes communication between two entities – AGVs and a fleet manager – VDA 5050 will need to be implemented at both ends of this communication channel (i.e., within the fleet manager and within the AGVs themselves) in order to function correctly.

What does it cover - specifically?

At the time of writing (June 2021), one full version of VDA 5050 has been published, in August 2019, with one revision made to this document in July 2020.

Today’s version (Revision 1.1) covers the act of sending a command to an AGV. Thereafter, the base concept of VDA 5050 is to provide a vehicle with sets of commands, one after another, gradually leading to an entire mission being completed.

ANT® server works differently by providing vehicles with all the data they need upfront. This allows them to be as independent as possible from a site’s WiFi infrastructure – which is not always strong or consistent – during operation.

See ANT® server in action on YouTube.

What are the limitations of VDA 5050?

The current version of VDA 5050 is limited to the communication of commands to AGVs. It does not yet span the many other factors that must be managed to ensure a successful multi-vehicle installation, such as a vehicle’s specific characteristics (e.g., whether it includes a fork, its maximum lift height, the type of pallets it can pick and drop etc.). This deeper level of detail is still to come, most likely in the next two to three years.

When will it go into effect?

VDA 5050 is proposed today as a base standard for discussion and testing. It will evolve over the coming two to five years. However, its final publication date has not been confirmed.

Where can I access the current version of VDA 5050?

A PDF version is available in English and German from the VDA’s website.

IS VDA 5050 only for Germany?

No, it is not only for Germany. It just comes from there.

VDA 5050 was born out of the country’s strong automotive sector, which is today one of the world’s largest users of AGVs. With German car manufacturers being very active worldwide, however, we can expect them to drive this standard not only in Germany but more widely across Europe and possibly across other regions too.

When will VDA 5050 next be updated?

The VDMA is planning to release version 2 of the standard in Q3, 2021.

Please contact Bluebotics on further questions on VDA 5050.

About the author

Dr. Nicola Tomatis

CEO, BlueBotics

Dr. Tomatis has been the CEO of BlueBotics since 2003 and joined its Board of Directors in 2015. He holds an M.Sc. in Computer Science from ETH Zurich and a PhD in Robotics from the EPFL in Lausanne. He received the IEEE Early Career Award in Robotics and Automation in 2008 and has twice been included in Bilan’s 300 Most Influential People in Switzerland.

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