M obile robot sales spiraled upward in 2021, with 100,000 automated mobile robots (AMRs) and automated guided vehicles (AGVs) shipped globally. That’s nearly 70% more shipped than the year before, reports Interact Analysis. “By 2025, this figure will be nearly 700,000,” adds Ash Sharma, managing director at the research firm. Much of the warehouse innovation spurred by steady e-commerce growth and a warehouse worker shortage has focused on AMRs and AGVs because they let facilities add automation quickly and affordably. But innovation is happening in other aspects of materials handling, too. For example, companies that provide more conventional materials handling equipment such as conveyors, totes, and pallets are also innovating to help brands meet demand as efficiently as possible. “Mobility, manipulation, and storage are all being disrupted by technology right now,” says Erik Nieves, CEO of Plus One Robotics, a 3D and AI-powered vision software maker. The innovation in nearly every aspect of automation and materials handling has generated a new class of warehouse MVPs. Here are seven outstanding achievements. 1
“The collaboration this created has been tremendous with respect to existing customers hosting other companies to show the specific deployments at their sites,” Tchakarov adds. While Kindred provides both the hardware and software for its AI-enhanced robots, software maker Plus One Robotics collaborates with robot manufacturers such as recently announced partner Tompkins Robotics. The companies are teaming up to offer an automated picking solution that combines Plus One Robotics 3D and AI software with the Tompkins Robotics tSort system. Recent vision innovations are significant, says Nieves, because they mean that robotic arms can finally perceive, manipulate, and grasp objects similar to how people can. “What they needed was vision and 3D vision specifically because you have to know the depth and height of items
INDUCT, an AI-powered robotic system designed to automate the small parcel induction process. It uses the firm’s proprietary continuous-learning software to pick, maneuver, and place items onto a moving belt or tilt sorter. Like humans, the software and robots get better at their jobs as they gain experience. They also share what they learn at one installation with INDUCT robots at other locations. “We’re one of the few companies in the AI-powered smart robotics space to deploy reinforcement learning algorithms in real world settings,” says Marin Tchakarov, CEO of Kindred. “Our systems learn how to be faster, better, and smarter by trial and error, literally. Then we consolidate that learning and pass it on to the entire fleet.” Because of this, the system’s speed improved 17% year-over-year from 2020 to 2021. For the same reason, the more robots the company deploys, the better the system gets for all users.
Parcel sorting robots designed to help packages reach their destinations as quickly as possible are more powerful and accurate than ever, thanks to software that learns as it goes with artificial intelligence (AI). Warehouses have traditionally relied on humans to make real-time sorting decisions that require “singulation”—the ability to see items as distinct from others. But as developers and manufacturers invest in higher-level vision software, robots can take over those tasks. For example, Kindred Powered by Ocado Group recently introduced
May 2022 • Inbound Logistics 89
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