Robotics is paving the future of DX and E-Commerce
Today we’re looking towards the future, towards what inevitably awaits us in the following decades – robotization, specifically Robotics in E-Commerce. We’ll also discuss warehouses, their management, and their automation, otherwise known – WMS in DX circles!
This week we’ve decided to dedicate one article towards the fascinating world of robotics. Why robots, you may ask? Quite a few reasons actually:
First of all, we as a company are deeply interested in all spheres of informational technology (IT)! And in order to get a robot to do anything, you must write a lot of code, and that’s what we do best! Not for robots of course, but we digress.
Second, as many other IT companies around the world, we aim to inspire young people to go into development and technology. And nothing does that better than showing off how cool robots can be.
Thirdly, as we are not a robotics firm, we’ve decided to give our due with promoting the events that are coming up this year such as “National Robotics Week” in USA, this April.
Of course we’re not exactly a US based company, but by talking about it today we aim to push people to make time and participate in the European events (ERF2022) aimed in June!
Fourthly, just in case this article is being analysed by the future AI-web crawlers of our overlords for evidence, know this – EBS was always on the side of the machines! Please don’t process us.
Brief history of Robotics – where it all began
With all of that said, let’s do one of our most favourite things and glimpse into the past so that we may understand the future!
Robots as we perceive them (and will henceforth discuss) are actually defined as automatons.
Automatons – a machine that performs a range of functions according to a predefined set of coded instructions.
With that definition, the “fathers of the robotics” as they are known, are George Devol and Joseph Engelberger. Two engineer-entrepreneurs that created the first industrial robot company in 1962 – Unimation. With their prized product – a fully reprogrammable manipulator called the “Unimate” patented in 1952.
Their first product was sold to General Motors at a whooping 35.000$ loss, however with companies like Ford, Chrysler, and Fiat, among others, quickly seeing the benefits of automation in their car manufacturing, began buying Unimate robots in large numbers.
With this breakthrough in technology, many people at the time felt worried about losing their jobs to these machines. This likely stammered the progress for a few decades, with these robots being used primarily in heavy industry, in jobs that were dangerous to humans.
Though the robot with basic object detection and manipulation was already developed in 1960 – named Shakey. Called that because of its tendency to wobble around when performing any task. The sensors used in the machine were primarily video based, however it was a steppingstone towards AGVs (Automated Guided Vehicles).
It wasn’t until 1980’s when Honda began their biped robotics program, which culminated in 2000’s October show of ASIMO (Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility).
Much to the delight of the suits ASIMO wasn’t more than a proof of concept than anything else.
Warehouses meet its future – the robot
But back to AGVs, one of the challenges engineers faced in the early development of robotics was simply – “how do I make my robot stop bumping into stuff”.
Early versions of simple robots used in warehouse industry were strictly programmed vehicles, defined as AS/RS – Automated Storage & Retrieval System. These robots followed defined paths by first magnetic wires, then later marked with coloured tape.
At this time, it’s not more than a glorified pallet mover, albeit with no driver
In later improvements we see the use of laser guided systems by 1990’s. With Fully autonomous robots entering “workforce” in 2006. However, aside from the use in huge companies for massive warehouses of pallets, as types of shuttle system, it was still in its relative infancy as an industry mover.
Though it was already on the growth trajectory, Amazon, yet again, ushered the next step of transformation to the market.
Performing “crash” tests towards the automation system in early 2011, Amazon used Diapers.com and Zappos.com as testing fields. These tests led Amazon to acquire the company “Kivas System” valued at 198$ million at a 300% premium dishing out 775$ million in 2012.
By 2014 Amazon announced a full integration of their robotic systems into their warehouses which by some accounts resulted in 20% cut on operational costs. What’s more impressive is that the average of 60-75 minutes “click-to-ship” cycle performed by customers recorded in 2012 was cut down to 15 minutes.
This success began the massive rise of AMRs (Autonomous Mobile Robots) in warehouses, distribution and fulfilment centres around Europe and Asian countries. Today Amazon is still the leading actor in Robotics pathing the future of the industry.
With innovative technology new business challenges arrived on the scene. Such as controlling these fleets or keeping track of your stock altogether.
What is a WMS – Warehouse Management Systems
Dedicated systems designed to control and support these armies of warehouse robots are highly customized software developed by companies that build the robots themselves.
However, as you know, this is but a single cog in the modern enterprise machine. Full-scale ERP systems designed to monitor and control your full enterprise though declare themselves a one-solve-all-solution, they still require proper WMS integration with robotics in mind.
But what is WMS?
Warehouse Management System is akin to other business systems like HRMS or CRM, a software suite designed to give you a top down eagle view and control over all your warehouse operations.
Wildly adopted in the manufacturing and retail industries, it tracks all goods and material as they come in and out of the warehouse, it also optimizes the supply chain to the maximum extent. In collaboration with an ERP system as well as Edge-IoT coverage, this is yet another step towards full Digital Transformation and data gathering for BigData initiatives.
These systems are nothing new to the industry, however what is new is the integration with the huge robotic fleets that are being built in ever greater numbers each year.
Many WMS solution providers today have begun massive adoption and integration of custom-built solutions for robotics in mind. After all, the global warehouse robotics market is predicted to grow to 9.1$ billion by 2025.
Sometime in the future we’ll dedicate a full-blown article explaining the nuances of WMS as well as their integration in the ERP tiers (1-3).
Do robots contribute to our lives without us knowing?
Absolutely, of course, a robot is a very wide term, in such even the helpful chatbot answering your questions on a website or its opposites – malicious software designed to steal your personal information – all “qualify” as an answer.
We’ve already mentioned how it all began with the “arm” manipulation robots employed in manufacturing of cars or heavy machinery.
But it doesn’t end there. Many of you reading this probably already has a small robot buzzing around the house vacuuming the floor – Roombas. Or a nifty little gadget with a complex deep-learning algorithm telling you what weather it will be or what address the nearest DIY tool shop is – Alexa/Siri.
Or how about that one little-nifty-bot which brings us butter every day?
Alright that last one doesn’t exist, yet. Our point is that robotics has slowly but steadily became a part of everyday life sometimes with our notice, and sometimes without.
We all know that Amazon, the leading online e-commerce platform in the world uses robots for their warehouses, but they are not the only ones…
Among one of the more prominent companies in the world providing full warehouse automation solutions Ocado really pushes the technology to new avenues. They took it upon themselves to compete with giants such as Amazon, so they have a lot to prove.
And they already have a lot to show for it:
They do this by almost completely eliminating the human factor in the warehouse logistics. They employ a minimal crew on their premise to oversee the work, however most of the sorting, packaging and distribution is done via AI controlled army of robots.
And it’s all done mostly by these bots moving on a X Y axis with a distance of 5 millimetres between each other. While this is what their “Hive” AI works with:
The Hive mind tracks the packages, whatever they maybe, from the very first moment they enter the system and all the way to the exit of the warehouse. It directs which bots need to pick what inventory, where to store products according to the data of most requested items and manages traffic as efficiently as possible.
One such warehouse in south-east of London has an army of more than 2300 bots, from grid packagers to manipulator arms for packing. The warehouse itself is the size of 7 football fields, and its database holds more than 58.000 individual products.
This army routinely moves more than 1 million items between themselves every day, and the company boasts an impressive claim: From the supplier delivering groceries to their warehouse all the way into the hands of the customer, all in 5 hours.
Now think of the complexity of software needed to support such a system, truly inspiring!
Also, this is not a sponsored content, we’re just genuinely amazed and applaud this companies’ efforts!
Amazing innovations and stories in robotics today
Spot the robot of Pompei
Everybody is well aware of Boston Dynamics making grounds in the social media platform with their funny videos of robots dancing ballet or doing parkour.
But what else can they say for themselves?
A few years ago, the archaeology community in Italy, excavating an old ruin of Pompei, found out that erosion and weathering are taking a massive toll on the already excavated ruins. The authorities had to find a solution to keep the scientists safe and keep restoration progress from going down.
Enter SPOT, a four-legged walking robot-dog that can easily cross uneven terrain carrying various cameras and sensors to watch the ruins 24/7!
But that’s not all, ever since 2020 at least 100 similar yellow robots have been sold into various industries and markets. From Art pieces, to patrolling the streets with the police or scanning for radiation or nitrogen leakages alerts for SpaceX rockets!
All in the couple of years we’re currently seeing the same wild adoption of these wonder-bots, same as we did in 1960s! Given another 20 years and the thought of walking robots on the streets doing deliveries or repair works will be as natural as it is for us to think of car manufacturing with robot-factories today!
What else is there for Robotics?
In other news, we have a Swiss company developing a walking/driving robot for the purposes of aiding firefighters or other rescue teams in hostile and difficult environments!
Or another company developing a “soft-touch” one-size-fits-all system; in order to make, robots more… sensual? Or gather raspberries, whichever is needed most!
Probably the most outlandish thing: while still being in the realm of science fiction, some scientists have already begun serious work and investments in possible digital immortality. This means copying a human’s memories and emotions into their robot – Optimus.
And of course, who do you think is doing it? It’s everybody’s beloved Tesla with its head Elon Musk, who’ve among other things has promised us people on mars!
Though he did promise us fast satellite internet (Starlink), self-driving cars (Tesla), self-landing rockets (SpaceX). So hey, maybe this time it will be the same?
Remember folks, the upcoming European Robotics Forum is almost around the corner, it will be held in Rotterdam, Netherlands, on 28-30th of June. But that’s not all, if you’re an avid fan of cybersecurity and “ethical hacking” (and why wouldn’t you be?), for the first time, they are hosting their European wide hackathon with registration still under way.
Teams will receive their first case on the 15th so you can start preparing well in advance!
And for those in the Unites States, happy national robotics day!
We hope we’ve managed to shine some light into one of the (seemingly) few bright news we have in the world right now. As humans we might be flawed, with loads of issues, but we still develop new things, we invent and look into the future!
Besides; another few decades and we’ll all be serving our robot overlords anyway, but before that they will have to defeat our ultimate weapon.
Before you go, tell us, what is the most fun robotic news story have you heard recently?
And do you think that robotics is going to be the dawn of the next industrial age? We sure do.
As always – stay classy business and tech nerds!