Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Robots in the Warehouse

Robots have been in warehouses for some years--but what's new is how robots are streamlining physical distribution and speeding customer order delivery by participating in the Internet of Things.

As shown above, robots are working side-by-side with Amazon employees to handle heavy, tedious, repetitive tasks. MIT Technology Review calls this human-robot symbiosis. Here's how that works at Amazon: "To encourage workers to see robots as companions, each unit is given a different name by an Amazon employee, and the name is entered into the system, so workstation workers can refer to them by name instead of a serial number."

Amazon recently awarded cash prizes for robots that (on their own) can read customer orders, gather and pack the merchandise, and have everything ready for shipment. Given the company's huge throughput and seasonal peaks, warehouse automation is needed to supplement traditional employee activities. That's one reason why Amazon acquired Kiva Systems in 2012 and renamed it Amazon Robotics.

Here's the vision of Amazon Robotics:
Amazon Robotics automates fulfilment center operations using various methods of robotic technology including autonomous mobile robots, sophisticated control software, language perception, power management, computer vision, depth sensing, machine learning, object recognition, and semantic understanding of commands.
Amazon isn't the only firm working on robots to collect orders and send them on their way. Fetch Robotics makes robots that carry bins and help warehouse workers retrieve merchandise to complete customer orders. Once a bin is filled, that robot peels away and another rolls up to continue helping the worker.

Clearpath Robotics is another firm marketing robots. It originally developed robots for dirty, dangerous jobs like mining. Now it has robots for warehouse use. An executive explains: "Our robots operate in collaboration with what human beings are already doing, meaning you can implement them within operations in facilities that already exist."

With customer satisfaction as the ultimate priority, what's next for robots in the warehouse? And how will businesses tighten tech security as the Internet of Things expands into more domains?

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