Next-gen AI-powered robots take over warehouses


The latest generation of robotics companies like Covariant and Osaro is what it specializes in in a technology that didn’t become commercially viable until late 2019. Currently, such robots are most skilled at simple manipulation tasks such as picking up objects and placing them in boxes. , but both startups are working with customers on more complex motion sequences, including automated bagging, which requires robots to work with wrinkled, flimsy or translucent materials. In a few years, any task that previously had to be done by hands can be partially or fully automated.

Some companies have already begun to redesign their warehouses to better take advantage of these new capabilities. For example, Knapp is changing the floor layout and the way it orients goods to determine which type of worker (robot or human) is better at handling different products. For objects that still stump robots, such as a clear bag of marbles or delicate pottery, a central routing algorithm sends them to a station where human foragers are located. More common items such as household items and school supplies would go to a station with the robots.

Derik Pridmore, co-founder and CEO of Osaro, predicts that fully automated warehouses in industries like fashion could come online within two years because robots are relatively easy to dress.

This does not mean that all repositories will be automated soon. Michael Chui, a partner at the McKinsey Global Institute, which studies the impact of information technologies on the economy, says there are millions of people around the world. “Strengthening all these facilities cannot happen overnight,” he says.

One of the first Covariant-enabled robotic arms that Knapp piloted at a warehouse in Berlin, Germany.

However, the latest automation push raises questions about the impact on jobs and workers.

Previous waves of automation have provided researchers with more data on what to expect. A recent study A study that analyzed the impact of automation at the firm level for the first time found that companies that adopted robots earlier than others in their industries became more competitive and grew larger, leading them to hire more workers. “Any job loss comes from companies that haven’t adopted robots,” says Lynn Wu, a professor at Wharton, who co-authored the paper. “They lose their competitiveness and then they lay off workers.”

But things will be different for people, as Amazon and FedEx employees have already seen. Roles such as packaging boxes and bags will be displaced, new ones will emerge – some directly related to the maintenance and inspection of robots, others from the secondary effects of fulfilling more orders that require expanded logistics and delivery operations. In other words, middle-skilled labor will disappear in favor of low- and high-skilled work, Wu says: “We’re breaking the career ladder and hollowing it out.”

But instead of trying to stop the automation trend, experts say it’s better to focus on facilitating the transition by helping employees re-skill and creating new opportunities for career advancement. “There are many countries in the world where workforces are shrinking due to aging,” Chui says. “Half of our economic growth has come from more people working in the last 50 years, and that will disappear. So there is a real need to increase productivity, and these technologies can help.

“We also need to make sure workers can share benefits.”


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