Picking, Packing, Delivery - All By Robots
Written by Lucy Black   
Saturday, 30 March 2019

Robots are beginning to have a real impact in logistics, relieving humans of arduous or repetitive tasks. Here are some of the very latest developments that take picking and packing further along the road, together will a robot delivery success story.

Thanks to the Amazon Picking Challenge we've already considered the problems associated with identifying and handling arbitrarily shaped objects Tossingbot is a picking robot jointly developed by researchers from Google, Princeton. Columbia and MIT that can accurately toss random objects into bins two times faster than previous systems.

As Andy Zeng, Student Researcher of Robotics at Google, explains in this video it's not just Tossingbot's speed and accuracy that is impressive, its the way that, by including deep neural networks as well as physics, the robot learns.

Potential applications for Tossingbot include debris clearing, or as one of the comments posted on You Tube suggests, handling and filtering waste in recycling centres, a hazardous job currently entrusted to humans. 

Relieving humans of heavy, backbreaking, work seems another good application for humans. In this video we see Boston Robotics' Handle robot lifting heavy boxes from one location and restacking them in another. 

 When we first met Handle it was described as "nightmare inducing" and was filmed performing a bizarre set of behaviors. Now the robot, which at 6.5 ft tall has both legs and wheel and travels at 9 mph, has been "reimagined" and repurposed for logistics. The major difference appears to be the addition of a counterweight to enable it to lean forward without toppling over. It does seem that Handle is now much more fit for the purpose assigned to it by its name.

We've also met the Starship delivery robot before. Now, two and a half years later, fleets of them are meeting with success on the corporate and college campus. 

The latest deployment, through a partnership of French food services company, Sodexo, and Starship Technologies, is at  Northern Arizona University which becomes the second US university to introduce a fleet of robots to deliver meals and snacks from on-campus restaurants to anywhere on campus. This follows their introduction to George Mason University in January 2019 which has been deemed a success. It transpires that since introducing the robots to  GMU's Virginia campus, an extra 1,500 breakfast orders have been placed and delivered autonomously, following a similar pattern observed at corporate campuses. Given that studies have linked breakfast consumption with improved performance this is encouraging.

It is also appealing to students. As one NAU student put it:

“I’m really excited for these robots! Having the ability to get breakfast delivered right to my door will be a lifesaver for early classes and long days.

Fast food and starship robots do seem to be a match made by technology and if it leads to better student and employee performance so much the better.

starshipcampus

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Last Updated ( Saturday, 30 March 2019 )