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We, as logistics professionals, talk about the current trend in bar coding, RFID, security, voice-activated systems and all of the other emerging trends for technology in logistics. But what about the future of robotics in logistics?

Basically, robots have been used in factories to perform repetitive tasks that required speed, precision and force.

Today, the state-of-the-art in robots is changing. Now, these robots move around. They are starting to imitate and look like humans. They are starting to perform tasks like humans do as well. These robots are operated from a distance and are doing tasks independent of direct human control.

The application of this technology in logistics is considerable. Robots can pick up pallets, sort boxes on pallets, and load them on a truck for a LTL/TL freight movement. Upon receipt they can unload the truck and place the pallet where it is needed. This frees up humans to do more value added tasks, not eliminate jobs. Palletizing is a natural starting point for the future of robots as a key part of technology in logistics .

For instance, Romeo, a 5-foot humanoid robot will be introduced soon by Aldebaran as a ”big brother” to the “pipsqueak” kissing NAO ( NAOqi, the embedded NAO software, includes a fast, secure and reliable, cross-platform, distributed robotics framework that provides a solid foundation on which developers can leverage and improve NAO’s functionality) robot. If you visit the Aldebaran company in Paris, you will see a robot sitting in a chair in the lobby. You can bend over and kiss it on the cheek. In response, this robot will tilt its head, touch its cheek and let out an audible smack….believe it or not!

“So what,” you say? This $ 16,000 two-foot robot is now being used in academic research labs and robotic soccer leagues. This is quite a shift from repetitive tasks.

Examples of Robotics Taking on More Complex Tasks

technology in logistics baxter robotWhat tasks can robots do today? Going back to Romeo above, he was created with a $13.8 million grant from the French government to be programmed to care for the elderly and assist in the home.

Robots are being made to collaborate with humans. The goal is perform any form of human labor.

Rethink Robotics recently released a video of its robot, Baxter, making a cup of coffee with a Keurig coffee machine. The company said the humanoid robot, with tong-like hands and a computer screen face, was trained within hours to carry out a variety of preprogrammed coffee-making tasks.

At Carnegie Mellon University, Manuela Veloso, a professor of computer science, has developed a series of robots she calls CoBots to perform tasks such as delivering mail, guiding visitors to appointments and fetching coffee. These robots also rely on humans (collaboration) because they don’t have arms they can’t operate elevators, so they have to be programmed to wait and ask for human assistance. If they get lost they stop, check the map on their computer screen and/or ask for human help to find the right route.

Unbounded Robotics (UBR) Company: Continuous Operation: Enhance UBR-1’s amazing run time with a charge dock. With the charge dock UBR-1 can complete long running tasks like unloading a dishwasher, fetching beverages, or setting the dinner table by taking a little time out to recharge.

Robots in Logistics Applications: The Future of Technology in Logistics is NOW

Over 17,000,000 (Yes….17 MILLION) twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) are imported into the US every year. Many of these are “cubed-out” by volume and are floor loaded. Unloading containers and trucks when no pallet is used can be very demanding, resulting in worker injuries, inconsistent unload rates and damaged product.

A good robotics application as a solution to meet the rising demand for technology in logistics areas, such as warehousing, provides solutions for robotic truck unloading and mixed-case depalletizing. Robots help improve the operational effectiveness of warehouses and distribution centers by:

  • Reducing injuries to workers: Unloading trucks is a physically demanding job that requires constant twisting, lifting and reaching. This can result in a high rate of injuries to workers.
  • Reducing product damage: Product is often tossed and sometimes damaged due to a need to keep the unload rate high. Workers will even stand on cases to reach higher in the truck. This results in damaged cases and damaged products.
  • Reducing loss due to theft: Theft often occurs before product is unloaded into the warehouse. With a robotic unloading, there is less risk of “product shrink.”

As far as technology in logistics go, in warehouses, robots are being used for basic, smaller line count, picking. Robotic solutions are often viewed as an alternative to costly manual labor.

Robotics & Technology In Logistics: Is it a Love/Hate Relationship?

With the Shadow Dexterous Hand, the technicians have taken a truly anthropomorphic (human form; human attributes) approach to robot manipulation. With 20 actuated degrees of freedom, position and force sensors, and ultra sensitive touch sensors on the fingertips, the hand provides unique capabilities for problems that require the closest approximation of the human hand currently possible.

The Shadow Dexterous Hand uses industry standard interfaces and can be used as a tele-operation tool or mounted on a range of robot arms as part of a robot system.

Modern life is defined by humanity’s love-hate relationship with its own technological creations. It’s in our nature to see life, personality and intention where none exists. RoboThespian™ exploits this desire; it is an anthropomorphic machine, a dot on the graph that starts with automata, and will end when we are no longer able to distinguish the living from the mechanized.

RoboThespian™ combines the appeal of a sophisticated entertainment package with the capabilities of a versatile research platform. It comes with standard content, like greetings and impressions, to which you can add your own recorded sequences or bespoke content. With a web based interface files controlling movement, sound and video can be simply uploaded. RoboThespian™ was designed from the outset as a flexible communication medium. The team at Engineered Arts can work with you to produce a robotic partner for your research, entertainment or communication needs.

Form is function: The humanlike appearance of new robots does more than satisfy science-fiction fantasies. Robotic specialist say they are choosing the human form for both social and technical reasons. Robots that operate indoors, in particular must be able to navigate a world full of handles switches, levers and doors designed for humans.

Finally, what does the future of robotics look like? Global demand for robots is forecast to increase nearly 11% per year through 2016 to $20.2 billion, outpacing both the world’s economy and overall manufacturing activity. The United States is projected to grow at more than 15% per year in that time, second only to China’s 17% These are among the results of a report from industry market research firm Freedonia Group.

What are your thought about the application of technology in logistics as a way to make shippers more efficient? Will robots take all the jobs or will they increase productivity? Let us know in the comments below!