ROBOTICS FOCUS

Robotics are not a new technology compared to some of the emerging tech out there, and most people will be familiar with some form of it. Robotics include everything from the automated assembly arm in a factory, to the Roomba vacuum cleaner in your house.

Speaking simply, a robot is defined as a physical, programmable machine, which performs tasks ‘autonomously’. So, you can programme the assembly arm to perform the same repetitive tasks all day, without someone having to tell it what to do.

Sometimes, robotics are combined with other technologies such as artificial intelligence or machine learning. This is where things get interesting (and potentially a little bit complicated)…

EYESEE 

Let’s start with a technology most people can wrap their heads around: drones. In warehouses they can pick up relatively mundane tasks such as scanning and ‘reading’ labels. Eyesee claim their drones can complete stock-check up to five times more quickly than other methods, scanning barcodes and keeping track of inventory at a super-fast rate. There’s still a human operator keeping tabs on this particular bot, viewing the scanned information in real-time on a tablet. According to Eyesee, their drones are safe, and will minimise incidences of incorrect stock take.

OCADO

A grocery brand may not be the most immediate thought when conjuring up ideas of robots, however this particular online-only supermarket is clearly an exception. Ocado have been long-known for being ahead of the curve when it comes to adopting tech and automating their processes.

In Ocado’s Andover warehouse, they’ve introduced ‘the hive’: a grid of over 1000 robots together in a grid system. The tasks these robots perform are relatively simple in themselves: lifting, dropping, sorting etc. They are also not independently automatic. They’re instead controlled by a central computer, meaning they act more like an extension of it – a hive-mind. Under the direction of the central computer, the network of robots can perform joint tasks when necessary; for example, communally lifting a heavier load. Ocado’s CTO, Paul Clarke, described the company’s strategy as to ‘disrupt itself’ by updating technology continually, and keeping an edge over their competitors. 

KINDRED

Kindred was in part funded by Google Alphabet Chairman, Eric Smidt’s VC fund, so you know it’s got promise.  Kindred’s robots are actually used by Gap Inc., sorting items from a conveyor belt, and taking t-shirts, jeans, accessories and more to their relevant drop-off zones. The robots are powered by a subset of Artificial Intelligence called Deep Learning. 

By using Deep Learning, the robots are able to differentiate a children’s t-shirt from a pair of earrings – no mean feat. Even more impressively, this branch of Deep Learning allows the machines to retain knowledge and skills over time: for example, recognising a pair of sunglasses and learning that it should be grasped more gently than a pair of men’s jeans. The result is less Ex-Machina and more Wall-e – and entirely impressive.  

Summary

This isn’t the end of the human employee. In all of the warehouses mentioned above, there are human workers – in fact, the robots are currently easing human workload amidst employee shortages, rather than replacing jobs entirely. Ultimately, these machines are often faster, cheaper and more efficient, and are opening up opportunities for companies to hire workers with a much broader skillset altogether.  

Sarah O’Connell, Senior Editor, FORWARDER magazine

ROBOTICS FOCUS

Robotics are not a new technology compared to some of the emerging tech out there, and most people will be familiar with some form of it. Robotics include everything from the automated assembly arm in a factory, to the Roomba vacuum cleaner in your house.

Speaking simply, a robot is defined as a physical, programmable machine, which performs tasks ‘autonomously’. So, you can programme the assembly arm to perform the same repetitive tasks all day, without someone having to tell it what to do.

Sometimes, robotics are combined with other technologies such as artificial intelligence or machine learning. This is where things get interesting (and potentially a little bit complicated)…

EYESEE 

Let’s start with a technology most people can wrap their heads around: drones. In warehouses they can pick up relatively mundane tasks such as scanning and ‘reading’ labels. Eyesee claim their drones can complete stock-check up to five times more quickly than other methods, scanning barcodes and keeping track of inventory at a super-fast rate. There’s still a human operator keeping tabs on this particular bot, viewing the scanned information in real-time on a tablet. According to Eyesee, their drones are safe, and will minimise incidences of incorrect stock take.

OCADO

A grocery brand may not be the most immediate thought when conjuring up ideas of robots, however this particular online-only supermarket is clearly an exception. Ocado have been long-known for being ahead of the curve when it comes to adopting tech and automating their processes.

In Ocado’s Andover warehouse, they’ve introduced ‘the hive’: a grid of over 1000 robots together in a grid system. The tasks these robots perform are relatively simple in themselves: lifting, dropping, sorting etc. They are also not independently automatic. They’re instead controlled by a central computer, meaning they act more like an extension of it – a hive-mind. Under the direction of the central computer, the network of robots can perform joint tasks when necessary; for example, communally lifting a heavier load. Ocado’s CTO, Paul Clarke, described the company’s strategy as to ‘disrupt itself’ by updating technology continually, and keeping an edge over their competitors. 

KINDRED

Kindred was in part funded by Google Alphabet Chairman, Eric Smidt’s VC fund, so you know it’s got promise.  Kindred’s robots are actually used by Gap Inc., sorting items from a conveyor belt, and taking t-shirts, jeans, accessories and more to their relevant drop-off zones. The robots are powered by a subset of Artificial Intelligence called Deep Learning. 

By using Deep Learning, the robots are able to differentiate a children’s t-shirt from a pair of earrings – no mean feat. Even more impressively, this branch of Deep Learning allows the machines to retain knowledge and skills over time: for example, recognising a pair of sunglasses and learning that it should be grasped more gently than a pair of men’s jeans. The result is less Ex-Machina and more Wall-e – and entirely impressive.  

Summary

This isn’t the end of the human employee. In all of the warehouses mentioned above, there are human workers – in fact, the robots are currently easing human workload amidst employee shortages, rather than replacing jobs entirely. Ultimately, these machines are often faster, cheaper and more efficient, and are opening up opportunities for companies to hire workers with a much broader skillset altogether.  

Sarah O’Connell, Senior Editor, FORWARDER magazine