How might create a future vision with incorprating the user?

N-9 Core77 Winner - Elias Thaddäus Pfuner



Innovative empty container handler


Partner: Kalmar Global

Duration: 10 Weeks

Designed With: guided by programme director Thomas Degn


N-9 is an innovative autonomous empty container handler for Kalmar Global. It stacks containers from the bottom up instead of the top down. This drastically increases the container throughput and time efficiency. It is built in an automated robotic twist lock system,  allows for the stacking of up to 9 containers.

With this system empty container terminals gain up to  87% more space for 40ft containers. The autonomous system behind N-9 allows it to work with more efficienciency, precision and safety.

The project was honored twice at the Core77 Designawards. It won the 'Commercial Equipment' student category and in the 'Transportation' it won a RunnerUp award.


Commercial Equipment Winner

Student Category

Transportation RunnerUp

Student Category


Creating the future of material handling  


It all started with the user


Video by Thomas Müller


From Sweden over Poland to Germany and back  


By Plane, Ferry and Bus

Field user Research

The project began with a diverse user and product research in Europe. The class traveled from Sweden to Poland and Germany to visit different harbours and raw material handling facilities. This was necessary to understand the environment and the product in which it is used. We interviewed people in Germany and Poland to ask about their, hopes & wishes, daily life with the machines and their future vision of it

Hamburg research
Hafen research
Werkstatt research
research Poland

Bringing the human into the future vision  


Predicting the future with the people who will be a part of it

interview Hamburg harbour
“In 5-10 years empty container handling will be automated”
“Sky is the limit.“
interview Sweden Umeå
“Storage and time are the most important things.”
“Most of the time it is human error.”
interview Hamburg steel factory
“The environment is too human right now.”
“In 5-10 years the machines will be fully automated.”

For creating a future scenario it was a must to analyse the interviews and filter the information the right way. To incorporate in the user in the future vision a scenario was created. This scenario is built up on quotes and interviews with people who currently work in this area. During the research one topic keep showing up and it is how to secure containers. During the ideation and concept phase the idea translated to how to secure containers on land.

future vision

Created together with Manuel Hess


4 USP's  


Focusing on empty container handling



Improved effeciency due to innovation and higher stacking.



Minimizing false stacked containers to provide more safety.



A innovative stacking method shows the potential of Kalmar.



A new automation solution which translates also on the ship.

rendering perspective

Stacking bottom up instead of top down  


Core idea

core idea

Instead of stacking top down, the machine stacks from the bottom up. The elevation of the container is minimized, and the throughput can be increased. To lift the containers, it hooks itself in the top row and pushes the container up with four pistons. It is also working in symbiosis with the AGV and a smart system. This increases timing drastically and allows better planning for empty container handling. For long distance traveling it can connect itself to the AGV, for short distance travelling it uses the built-in wheels. The machine is completely autonomous and can be controlled if necessary. It also still connects the containers with fully automatic twist locks which allow for higher stacking of up to nine containers. This means it can stack one more than current solutions. 


86% more space for 40 ft container  


based on HCCR Hamburg

calculation more container

To proof if the concept would bring a benefit for a empty container handler a space calculation had to be made. A layout from an existing harbour has been taken in this case it was the HCCR in Hamburg. With N-9 it is possible to shrink the wasted space due to is flexibility and new way of stacking. this would increase a space gain for 40ft containers up to 60% if they would stack them how it is now. If locking the containers together it would be possible to stack higher and therefore reach a gain by 86%.


 Comparison between today and N-9




 A smart autonomous empty container handler

mechanical structure

Since there was no machine to base the mechanical structure on a inside out strategy has been chosen. First all of the internal components have been created in Fusion 360 and then implemented into Rhino. The final model was built in Rhinoceros with surfaces. The shape should resemble a strong base which can withstand the forces. the upper body should be emphasized as a structural element.

n-9 machine detail - elias pfuner

 Mechanical Details


Support Foot closed

The first picture is showing the driving position of the feet. This is revealing the wheel underneath, and shows no yellow warning signs. 

Support Foot movement

The picture above shows the motion in between the two states of driving and lifting. On this frame the machine is currently changing state. 

Support Foot locked

The standing postion is revealing yellow refelective warning stripes, and also iluminating the floor around the foot by activating a yellow LED stripe.


Movement Forward

This is the position of the machine in which it can drive away from a container stack, and either connect to a AGV or drive to a nearby container stack.


This picture is showing the turning mechanism. The wheels can be turned 90.° Electric acctuators are pulling or pushing the axle of the wheels. This motion can also be used to drive curves.

Movement Sideways

The other fixed position of the wheels is used to drive diagonal to a nearby container stack. For long distance driving it has to connect to a AGV.


Lock containers  


More security and higher stacking


To provide more security and the ability to stack higher the N-9 can lock containers together with automatic twistlocks. Also the pushing upwards motion is a more stable movement than what current solution offer. To help keeping balance each actuator has a implemented sensor to counterbalance irregularities.


Stacking higher

N-9 can stack containers higher and faster due to a lower elevation of the empty container. Current solution can stack up to 8 containers with N-9 it is possible to stack up to 8.

Securing Containers

Containers getting locked together with automatic twistlocks.This unique feature provides more safety and allows higher stacking.

Locking Mechanism - rendering
The amount of detail and also the idea with the twist locks is spot on.
— Peter Söderberg, Vice President, R&D Mobile Equipment, Kalmar Global
Maintenance rendering

For a more detailed view on the process feel free to check out the project report on issuu.