Autonomous Pallet Loader
Navy SBIR 2019.1 - Topic N191-002
MCSC - Mr. Jeffrey Kent -
Opens: January 8, 2019 - Closes: February 6, 2019 (8:00 PM ET)


TITLE: Autonomous Pallet Loader


TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Ground/Sea Vehicles

ACQUISITION PROGRAM: Extendable Boom Fork Lift - Modernization (EBFL-M) & Light Capability Rough Terrain Forklift (LCRTF)

OBJECTIVE: Develop an autonomous solution for transporting material up to the size of a full 463L pallet without the help of manually operated material handling equipment (i.e., forklift). Ensure a solution capable of loading and unloading the above-mentioned material onto and off of aircraft that can accommodate a 463L pallet (e.g., CH-53 or C-130).

DESCRIPTION: Currently there is no system that allows for autonomous loading/unloading of cargo palletized on full- or half-size 463L pallets in tactical/austere environments. This results in a reliance on manpower (including fire teams) for unloading tasks in unsecured locations. Autonomous capability to load and unload cargo would greatly reduce the burden on troops in the field to move supplies out of supplying aircraft. Manual handling of cargo increases time the aircraft is on the ground in the Landing Zone and increases exposure of personnel. The system must be able to load and unload a full 463L pallet onto itself by remote control or autonomously. Once loaded, the system must be able to navigate from the self-loading location to the aircraft, over semi-improved surfaces. Technical Risks include autonomous interaction of manned/unmanned platforms, effectiveness in unprepared environments, and cargo agnostic handling capabilities.

Load and unload time should be a maximum of 120 minutes for each task.

Depending on power source (electric/engine), the system shall be able to perform one mission profile on one charge or tank of fuel. Mission profile will include loading the pallet at the self-loading location (maximum 30 minutes), navigate 200 yards (600 ft) to the aircraft and load onto the aircraft (maximum 90 minutes), unload off the aircraft and navigate 200 yards (600 ft) to the self-unloading location (maximum 90 minutes), and unload the pallet (maximum 30 minutes). The system must contain proper lifting and tie down provision for transportability and tie while loaded and unloaded.

PHASE I: Develop concepts for an autonomous pallet loader that meets the requirements in the Description. Demonstrate the feasibility of the concepts in meeting Marine Corps needs and establish that the concepts can be developed into a useful product for the Marine Corps. Establish feasibility by material testing and analytical modeling, as appropriate. Provide a Phase II development plan with performance goals and key technical milestones, and that will address technical risk reduction.

PHASE II: Develop a scaled prototype for evaluation to determine its capability in meeting the performance goals defined in the Phase II development plan and the Marine Corps requirements for the autonomous pallet loader. Demonstrate system performance through prototype evaluation and modeling or analytical methods over the required range of parameters including numerous deployment cycles. Use evaluation results to refine the prototype into an initial design that will meet Marine Corps requirements. Prepare a Phase III development plan to transition the technology to Marine Corps use.

PHASE III DUAL USE APPLICATIONS: Develop the autonomous pallet loader for evaluation to determine its effectiveness in an operationally relevant environment. Support the Marine Corps process of test and validation to certify and qualify the system for Marine Corps use.

The autonomous pallet loader in its military configuration might not be suitable at its size for commercial application, but the technology of loading and unloading cargo autonomously and transporting it to another location would reduce the personnel requirement for driving a forklift. There are some commercially operated C-130s that could use the 463L pallet and potentially benefit from this technology.


1. “Autonomous Cargo Handling System.” SBIR Topic N171-087.

2. “CH-53K King Stallion.”

KEYWORDS: Autonomous; Material Handling; Pallet; Loader; 463L; Automated Guided Vehicle; Logistics; UGV



These Navy Topics are part of the overall DoD 2019.1 SBIR BAA. The DoD issued its 2019.1 BAA SBIR pre-release on November 28, 2018, which opens to receive proposals on January 8, 2019, and closes February 6, 2019 at 8:00 PM ET.

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