Saturday, January 31, 2009

Autonomous Robots Invade Retail Warehouses

Next time you order a new pair of skinny jeans from, you should know that you are helping welcome in the hive-mind robot overlords of retail.

Warehouses run by Gap, as well as Zappos and Staples now use autonomous robots to pluck products from their shelves and send them to you.

All the robots are told is where products are located and where they need to go. From there, the robots, which look like massive orange Roombas, figure out the rest. They locate the stack of shelves with the needed product on it, slide beneath the stack to pick it up and then find their own routes from the stacks of stuff to human operators. And they manage to find just the right time to get themselves recharged for five minutes out of every hour.

"It's a major game-changer. There's no question about that. You can increase productivity immensely," said Michael Levans, editorial director for a group of supply-chain trade magazines like Logistics Management. "The Zappos guys claim that from the moment you put your order in and it is submitted to the time the box is on the dock and ready to be put on a truck is 12 minutes."

The robots, which in the largest distribution center currently number over 500, are built by a small company called Kiva Systems (no relation to the microfinance outfit). In total, they've installed more than 1,000 bots at a dozen warehouses and are growing quickly. By the end of this year, they expect single locations to have systems with 1,000 of the machines.

They don't use sophisticated visual sensors to navigate; instead, they know where they are by using a simple and cheap grid system that's stuck onto the floor of the warehouse.

That allows warehouse operators to switch off the lights and climate controls in the large areas of the warehouse that are patrolled solely by robots, cutting energy costs by as much as 50 percent over a standard warehouse.
Pretty cool. Check out this video as well:

via Wired


Rebelfish said...

Now we need a politician who promises to keep America's shitty jobs, after they're taken over by robots, from being shipped overseas.

Fat Knowledge said...

They took 'er jobs!

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