Robots are dramatically changing the way warehousing and logistics work. Leaders in this field are Amazon and Walmart, who are both introducing fleets of robots to improve warehousing efficiency. The increase in logistics and warehousing automation has been driven by 2 main factors:
- improvements in machine learning through Artificial Intelligence, both in terms of augmentation, where robots assist humans, and automation, where robots function without human management; and
- better sensors and movement capability which enables robots to be aware of their immediate environment. In addition to visual and audio sensors, warehouse robots can also be fitted with thermal and touch-sensitive sensors too. The impact of this is to enable robots to work in the same environment as humans, without the risk of robots damaging humans.
The types of robots deployed in warehousing include:
- AVGs – automated guided vehicles which can transport items around the warehouse, often following a track or similar sensors built into the floor
- AMRs – autonomous mobile robots which also travel around the warehouse but do not need a track or prescribed route, rather understanding their environment by using sensors and maps. They will have the ability to identify each package individually and deliver it to the appropriate place. In addition to picking and sorting, they can also be used to conduct inventory checks and re-stock.
- Aerial drones which can use optical systems and deep learning technology to navigate warehouses. They can travel quickly and can access hard-to-reach places.
In addition to reducing warehouse costs and increasing efficiency, robots are delivering:
- Low error rates as robots get the work done correctly the first time, every time
- Flexibility as robots are adaptable to busy and slow seasons, reflecting the reality of warehouse operation
- Improved safety, as robots can undertake the difficult and dangerous tasks, and work effectively side by side with humans
- Improved customer satisfaction as delivery times are speedier and errors are fewer