Autonomous Unwrapping of General Pallets: A Novel Robot for Logistics Exploiting Contact-Based Planning

Chiara Gabellieri*, Alessandro Palleschi, Lucia Pallottino, Manolo Garabini

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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In recent years, robotics has been largely applied to improve the efficiency of logistic processes. Pallets cover a crucial role in the logistic flow, since they represent the main way to store and ship items. When put onto pallets, the items are wrapped with plastic films to protect them and prevent them from falling. Despite being the first and necessary operation for handling the stacked goods, unwrappingthe task of removing the plastic films wrapped around the goodshas not yet been satisfactorily automated. We propose the first robotic solution for autonomous unwrapping of generally shaped pallets, including both homogeneous and heterogeneous pallets. Force and torque measurements are exploited to retrieve information on the collisions between the end-effector and the wrapped items or the plastic film. Based on the contact information, we design a novel reactive planning strategy that makes the unwrapping task effective and robust on pallets with uncertain position or shape. We present the results of an extensive experimental campaign to validate the proposed method. Note to Practitioners—This work is motivated by the fact that unwrapping machines are not yet common on the market. The few commercial examples are usually bulky machines that lack the flexibility to adapt to different and irregularly shaped pallets. Thus, the crucial operation of removing the plastic film around palletized goods is still mainly performed by hand. Blade handling, ladders, and electrostatic shocks are sources of potential injury. We propose a flexible, autonomous unwrapping robot suitable for both cuboid and irregularly shaped pallets. The robot is composed of a robotic arm, a custom cutting end-effector, a vision module, and a suitable planning and control unit. The reduced dimensions allow it to be mounted on a mobile base. The robot has been successfully tested on different pallet configurations. However, extensive testing in real-world scenarios should be carried out to assess both reliability and time efficiency in more realistic working conditions. Moreover, real pallets can reach considerable heights. Thus, a prismatic joint should be integrated to address such cases. Finally, unwrapping in the presence of typical plastic straps and different types of film, e.g., the shrink one, is to be evaluated.
Original languageEnglish
Article number9801631
Number of pages18
JournalIEEE transactions on automation science and engineering
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print/First online - 20 Jun 2022


  • Pallets
  • Robots
  • Plastics
  • Planning
  • End effectors
  • Logistics
  • Task analysis
  • 22/3 OA procedure


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