For decades now, there have been stories about how – sometime in the future – humans and robots form a symbiotic relationship that helps to accelerate innovation and improve life as we know it. I realize most of those stories were portrayed via sci-fi movies or television programs such as The Jetsons. But I’m here to tell you that intelligent automation is very real, and that we have officially reached that “time in the future” when we are ready to stand up a robot ecosystem – at least in the warehouse.
The timing couldn’t be better either. As my colleagues Tom Moore and Jim Hilton have reminded us recently in their blogs, those responsible for the warehousing and distribution of both consumer and commercial goods are facing higher order volumes, new expectations for same day shipping and labor constraints. That is actually one of the main reasons why robots should be viewed as friend versus foe.
Robots aren’t here to take over the world. Rather, they are the key to making our world better (and human workers more valuable).
Don’t believe me? There are two companies proving that statement to be true as you’re reading this: Plus One Robotics and Locus Robotics.
Though each company is focused on solving a different problem in the warehouse, both are working towards a common goal of making warehouse operations more efficient through human and robot collaboration. And, together, they have more than demonstrated that “intelligent automation” is a smart technology solution to a growing set of demand-driven problems that our customers face. That is why Zebra Ventures has invested in both Plus One Robotics and Locus Robotics over the past few months.
Why Zebra is Investing in Robotics – and Why Right Now
It is no secret that Zebra is aggressively developing solutions to help our warehouse customers modernize their operations. We’ve also been very vocal about how advanced technologies, including automation, can help manufacturers, logistics managers, distributors and others achieve their intelligent fulfillment ambitions in the warehouse, yard and beyond. Just last month, we shared examples of how the blockchain traceability API in our now publicly-available Internet of Things (IoT)-centric Zebra Data Services™ can improve tracking accuracy as goods flow in and out of the warehouse to increase accountability, ensure quality and more. Drew Ehlers spoke more in-depth in our “Ask the Expert” blog posts about the broader blockchain and IoT applications for warehouses that will aid with automation. Even more industry experts spoke about how achieving a more “automated” workflow is a modern necessity in the warehouse and beyond for a wide range of reasons. So, it is not that far of a stretch for Zebra to have an interest in robotics in the warehouse.
Robots Will Help You Respond Faster to Challenges and Growth Opportunities
Ready or not, the “now economy” is quickly shrinking lead times to hours. In some cases, fulfillment is occurring (or being forced to occur) within minutes. That rapid response burden is not going to ease either. If anything, it’s going to expand beyond the consumer retail sector. Manufacturers and retailers need a way to fulfill more orders with less labor and more easily respond to volume growth and seasonal peaks. The Zebra Ventures automation portfolio duo – Plus One and Locus – are focused on automating the picking, packing, shipping, receiving and sorting workflows within the warehouse in a way that will ultimately create an environment in which humans spend less time on mundane, repetitive tasks and more time on value-added actions.
Plus One Robotics has developed artificial intelligence (AI) software that enables robotic arms to know what item to pick, how to pick it and where to place it in logistics and e-commerce facilities: