As technology becomes more innovative, every industry will benefit from the intelligent and autonomous machines that are being invented. The industries that need manual labor can essentially incorporate robots into their work environments, as they are able of carrying out difficult jobs. The warehouse industry is certainly one of them! According to U.S. research Data from the Census Bureau, the average warehouse worker spends nearly seven weeks a year in unnecessary movement, costing more than $4.3 billion in labor. Mobile robots can certainly help workers perform their jobs easily.
Walking into the first chamber of Ocado's robot warehouse system in May, I was immediately struck by three things: how cold it was, how enormous it was, and how quiet. No shouts from warehouse staff, or tinny radios playing pop hits. The robots collect groceries from crates beneath them, and drop them off at a packing station. Occasionally they would all simultaneously come to a halt, green lights blinking, awaiting their next command, received via an unofficial 4G network custom-built by Ocado. Hundreds of swarm robots at Ocado's automated warehouse gathering grocery orders - they have a top speed of 4m per second.
In warehouses across Europe, man and machine are increasingly working more closely together – and a lack of future manpower could accelerate automation further. In Andover, online grocery retailer Ocado operates an automated fulfilment centre, which includes a robot grid – or "Hive" – which uses proprietary storage and picking technology to enhance warehouse efficiency through a tightly-controlled grid of robots shifting groceries with humans working behind the scenes. Global online retailer Amazon's Winsen centre near Hamburg is also staffed in a similar human-meets-robot way. After pioneering the use of robots in the U.S. in 2012, it has rolled out the technology to help with stock-picking in other facilities, with Winsen marking a first for Germany in the process. While robots are no longer a novelty in warehouses, the Andover and Winsen examples are far from the norm.
Warehouse robots are increasingly taking on the task of collecting the items you order online and getting them ready to ship. It used to take 6-8 weeks for an order to arrive - now Amazon and Walmart can get you your stuff the next day. How are online companies getting you your goods so fast? In many cases, robots are helping to speed things along! Recently, I visited Westlake Village, California startup inVia Robotics.
The warehouse is owned by Chor N Ng, said her daughter, Eva Ng, 36. She said the warehouse was leased as studio space for an art collective and not used as a dwelling. "Nobody lived there," she told The Times, adding: "It was an art collective." She said she had asked her leaseholders about the issue and been reassured nobody lived in the building. They said sometimes some people worked through the night but that is all," she said.