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Mobile robots in e-commerce: Experts weigh in on tech advances, demand

3.29.19

By Eugene Demaitre

Growing demand for rapid e-commerce order fulfillment is a major driver for the development and adoption for mobile robots. However, the market and the technologies that serve it are changing rapidly.

The Robot Report asked the following five experts in mobile robotics about their observations (their responses have been edited for length):

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What sorts of requests do e-commerce companies have? Are you able to meet them, or is it a matter of developers and users adjusting expectations?

Galluzzo: Companies are really looking for what the RightHand Robotics guys call the “three Rs:” range of products, the picking rate, and reliability for restocking.Many requests are on the range piece. Customers really want to see robots capable of handling more types of things, taking on different tasks than can do today. We’re able to meet their requirements in a certain range — for example, 80% of SKUs — but that’s a very broad spectrum of things to handle.

Welty: They all want “rule of thumb”-type answers. How many robots per person, how many robots per square feet, how many picks per hour can I expect?We continue to refine our thinking, and the answers are getting better. It’s still early in [the process of] understanding just how effective and efficient AMRs can be. We’re only just starting the optimization process.

Leavitt: We work very closely with our customers to properly assess a site’s fit and needs and to optimize the deployment. We continuously plow those learnings back into the product.We also have customers who, once they see the boost in productivity in their picking function, naturally want to apply these advances to other warehouse functions.

Theobald: We’re seeing more and more process integration with the whole enterprise. It used to be that having a robot that could do one thing pretty well was good enough. Customers now really need their robots to be multipurpose.

Vecna’s mobile robots can be dynamically assigned to different tasks in real time based on the current needs of the operation. We need to build robots and systems that provide value 24/7 to our customers whenever possible. If we want to help the industry advance, we can’t have robots sitting idle.

One of the challenges that the industry faces right now is that we are in a hype cycle around robotics; hence, you see unrealistic claims and misinformation that seems to be inspired more by Hollywood than reality. When robotics companies fail to deliver, it can lead to incorrect perceptions that mobile robots aren’t ready for prime time. We’ve seen something similar in the self-driving car industry.

However, many customers are already seeing the benefits of mobile robots. It’s important to buy from organizations that have a proven track record of delivering safe, reliable robots that provide real ROI.

 

Read the entire article on The Robot Report.