Boston-Area Companies Push For Robot Workers In Warehouses Under Holiday Crunch

12.22.17

Boston-Area Companies Push For Robot Workers In Warehouses Under Holiday Crunch

As warehouses experience constant turnover, people like, Daniel Theobald, founder of Vecna in Cambridge, see a growing appetite for robots.”I think everybody’s realizing that in order to compete in today’s global economy, automation is the key to success,” he said.”We’ve developed into an impatient race,” he said. “What’s been done now is using automation to meet our essentially unreasonable consumer expectations: ‘I want what I want, I want it now.’ ” Daniel Theobald, co-founder of Vecna

Data suggests he’s right about automation. The market research firm Tractica sees logistics as one of the fastest growing markets for robots. It’s expected to quadruple and reach nearly a million by 2022.

Vecna has a slightly different model than other companies. It’s more research-focused, and has spent millions developing an autonomy brain that can fit on a range of robots, some of which are powerful enough to lift a shelving unit.

“You can take one of our robots … a tugger that can handle 4,500 kilograms and four trailers behind it,” said Theobald, “you can introduce it into the environment, drive it around, (and) it basically learns the environment much like a human does.”

He, too, said the entire industry has changed largely because of Amazon.

Amazon has proven that logistics can be a competitive advantage.

The tech giant now has 100,000 robots in its warehouses around the world, according to an Amazon spokeswoman.

Theobald said Amazon showed warehouse executives that customers want and expect speed when they order online.

“We’ve developed into an impatient race,” he said. “What’s been done now is using automation to meet our essentially unreasonable consumer expectations: ‘I want what I want, I want it now.’ ”

Theobald said that because many customers demand accurate orders filled within hours “automation is the only option,” particularly for smaller retailers, if they want to survive.

And for that, we have Amazon to thank, or to blame. Either way, in the years to come, your holiday gifts are likely to have been touched by a robot.

Read the rest of this article at WBUR.org.