Advanced Robotics Appearing at a Store Near You


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Advanced Robotics

I cited the Supply Chain Management Survey 2015 in my post The Government Doesn’t Get It. I used the survey results to support the argument that Supply Chain Professionals are fully cognizant of the disruptive technologies introducing paradigm shifts in the way we move goods from manufacturer to consumer. But the government is not and they can’t even provide the 21st century infrastructure required to transport freight around this country.

I’ve reproduced the survey results below. What captured my attention was the category in the middle – “Advanced Robotics”. 38% of respondents thought it a disruptive and important technology and 42% thought it interesting but were unclear how useful it is. This 42%, plus the 20% who thought the technology was irrelevant, better wake up and smell the coffee!

SCM Survey 2015

Amazon Have Been Early Adopters of Advanced Robotics

Amazon have been early adopters of advanced robotics since they acquired Kiva Systems in 2012. They deploy robots to move racks of merchandise to human pickers and packers. This cuts out the need for the picker to “hunt” for the location of the item. According to Amazon their robots have collectively  moved more than a billion pods to workstations and traveled 92.3 million miles – almost the distance from the Earth to the Sun.

Robots Are Deployed in Retail

Just recently robots have been deployed in the retail environment. OSHbot, a human sized robot developed by Lowe’s Innovation Labs speaks 5 languages and will lead you directly to the product you seek. Tally, developed by San Francisco startup Simbe, rolls around a store taking inventory and identifying incorrectly placed merchandise. It then reports the results to its human manager who decides what actions to take.

Tally can capture an entire small store in about an hour, Bogolea, Simbe CEO,  says. A smaller store like Walgreens   may have human employees spend around 25 hours a week tracking stock with a handheld scanner. That number can shoot up to 200 or 300 hours in a big box store like Target.

Will a robot drive train into my yard at some point in the future? Doubtful, I’m sure GE will introduce an autonomous train at some point that’s driven by joystick from the Railroad head office. But robots are starting to pull their weight and I’m convinced we will start seeing them deployed in parts of the supply chain other than distribution and retail.

Now if only I could find a robot that makes great coffee on demand!

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