When Amazon acquired Kiva Systems in 2012, other retailers and third-party fulfillment centers panicked. The e-commerce giants took Kiva's robots off the market, leaving their competitors without an important productivity tool. Lots of newcomers have cropped up to help warehouses keep up with demand since then. But one of the most hotly anticipated robots in this space was under wraps, until today. Founded by former Kiva executives Jerome Dubois and Rylan Hamilton with Mimio's Christopher Cacioppo, 6RS named its flagship robot Chuck after the Charles River.
A keen-eyed new robot looks poised to snag an important everyday warehouse job. Kinema Systems, a startup based in Menlo Park, California, has developed a robot capable of breaking down pallets of boxes no matter what size or shape they are or how they are packed together. This is a routine job at thousands of large stores, warehouses, and shipping companies--the aftermath of goods making their way through the supply line to your front door. The new robot uses a simple suction system to grab boxes, but it needs state-of-the-art computer vision and machine learning to figure out how to grab them. The machine does not need to be programmed at all--instead, it automatically calibrates itself and teaches itself how to break boxes down.
In another sign that more warehouse workers could be displaced by machines, Hitachi has created a mobile logistics robot that can use two arms to handle inventory. Developed to meet increasing demand from online shopping orders, the machine can move around on wheels, autonomously fetching merchandise and carrying it to a shipping container. Because its arms can hold objects of many different shapes and sizes, the robot could be used to replace human staff doing repetitive picking work in high mix, low volume warehouses, where it would not be cost-effective to use dedicated robots for each different product. Hitachi has developed an autonomous two-armed robot that can work in warehouses that ship goods for online retailers. For the robot's appendages, Hitachi used two Epson ProSix C4-A901S industrial robot arms, which have six degrees of freedom of movement, and equipped them with cameras that use a computer vision system to recognize merchandise.
Ocado, the world's largest online-only grocery retailer, relies on robots to deliver fresh food to hundreds of thousands of people in the UK. Its warehouses are designed like living organisms – there's a central nervous system (software), a cardiovascular system (conveyor belts) and red blood cells (crates). But as online shopping becomes more popular, Ocado is looking to new distribution systems to meet the growing demand.
The idea of robotics and automation is extensively implemented in the supply chain. The modern generations of robots are easy to program, more flexible and within your means. Their role is to assist workers with repetitive and physically challenging tasks. Gartner predicts that by 2023, over 30% of active warehouse workers will increase in number with the hiring of collaborative robots. A majority of warehouse operations have relied merely on human-executed processes, but next-generation autonomous mobile robots are on the lookout to transform warehouse operations.