VDA 5050 is a forthcoming standardized interface for Autonomous Guided Vehicles (AGVs). Its goal is to enable different models of AGV to communicate effectively and make truly interoperable fleets a reality. If you plan to invest in automated vehicles or robots in the future, here are the top things to help you understand what this new standard means and what it should offer businesses looking to automate their in-house transportation processes. 

What is VDA 5050?

VDA 5050 concerns the communication between different AGVs and one central fleet management software program. The standard is the result of a collaboration between the German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA) and the VDMA Materials Handling and Intralogistics Association. The project involves VDA’s AGV user members and AGV manufacturer members of the VDMA, including BlueBotics. 

VDA 5050 proposes a standard communication between any compliant AGVs on site and the fleet manager, aiming to create an environment whereby AGVs can function seamlessly with a site’s fleet management program, regardless of vehicle type or manufacturer. Although the idea comes from Germany, this interface could be adopted across Europe if successful (equivalent earlier-stage initiatives also exist in the U.S. and China). 

Why is VDA 5050 important?

As history has shown us, communication between equipment and systems based on different propriety protocols can cause huge headaches and create very real limitations as businesses look to advance their operations to meet changing market demands. In contrast, by having a standard communication protocol in place, AGV users will not be tied to a specific AGV manufacturer, increasing flexibility by allowing users to select the best-fit vehicle option for their application as they build their fleet. The standardization of vehicle communication should also enable new vehicles to be inserted effectively into an existing operation, reducing commissioning costs. Not only that, but with one fleet manager and one set of routes for automated vehicles to follow around a site, different-brand AGVs can operate in the same areas, crossing paths, sharing elevators, and more – without the need for multiple routes and fleet managers. It, in turn, should help users to maximize the space availabitlity and optimize the use of AGVs even in space-limited areas.

What is the current status of VDA 5050?

Two iterations of the burgeoning VDA standard have been released to date. The latest, version 2.0, was published in January 2022. While the first version covered the act of sending a command to an AGV, the second adds two key functionalities:

  1. Sending ‘actions’ from the master control to individual vehicles (e.g. slow down, lift fork).
  2. Allowing a vehicle to send a ‘Fact Sheet’ that describes its functionality in more detail (e.g. type of vehicle, drive type) to the fleet management platform.

Today, VDA 5050 is effectively a base standard for discussion and testing. The standard will continue to evolve, although a final target date for full publication is yet to be announced. The VDMA plans to release either version 2.1 or 3.0 in Q1, 2023. A PDF version of version 2.0 is available from the VDA’s website here.

While VDA 5050 remains a work in progress, BlueBotics’ ANT® server fleet manager already enables the management of a diverse fleet of ANT® driven vehicles, no matter what the vehicle type (tractor, forklift, underride, etc.) or brand. Effectively, VDA 5050 aims to offer a more generic version of this existing solution to ensure any AGV can work seamlessly with others as part of a diverse fleet.

What is the next VDA 5050 need to provide?

While the current work on VDA 5050 has the potential to move the industry towards the wider and more flexible deployment of AGVs, the standard is not currently fully featured enough to meet all the real-world requirements of a diverse fleet of vehicles. For instance, it does not specify how AGV traffic should be managed, or how vehicles should interface – via the fleet manager – with other on-site equipment such as palletizers and automatic doors. 

By: Grégoire Terrien, VP of Development at BlueBotics