Japanese start-up introduces the first humanless warehouse

Jobs performed by warehouse workers and forklift operators are now completed by robots in the first humanless warehouse in Tokyo. Mujin, a start-up company, has equipped its customer’s, JD.com, e-commerce warehouse with robots.

In an effort to augment existing industrial robot arms, Mujin is building robot controllers and camera systems. The controller’s technology based on motion planning and computer vision, strengthens robotic autonomous and intelligent action. The enhanced controllers lead to the elimination of manual robot training and overall higher productivity.

The 40,000-sq-m JD.com e-commerce facility is equipped with 20 industrial robots that complete tasks such as picking, transferring packages, and loading docks and trucks. Crates on conveyor belts, camera systems and Mujin robot controllers are all part of the humanless warehouse. The robots come with five workers who are needed to service the machines, compared to an estimated 400 to 500 workers that would be needed in the absence of the robots.

Mujin is targeting the predictability in the controller’s moves, and the development of automation technologies such as robot hardware, sensing hardware, AI algorithms, conveyor systems and sorting systems. That’s to say that the company aims to standardize a complete automation package that can automate warehouses without tailored components for customers.

Improvements will continue to be made in the field of warehouse automation as Japanese companies, following JD.com, will be testing out the new technology.

What level of engagement do workers have in a fully automated warehouse?

How are robots enhancing productivity in a warehouse?

What technologies can aid the integration of robots in a warehouse?



As Boeing booms, robots rise and job growth lags

An article published on Monday November 16th, 2015 in Reuters, http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/11/16/us-boeing-production-robots-insight-idUSKCN0T50E420151116#b6etFO8RpHo75xX8.97, states that Boeing’s longstanding cycle of employment soaring when they needed to turn out more planes and then having to lay off employees when the rate fell is no longer. The world’s largest plane maker is in the midst of their biggest peacetime boom, producing 20% more planes than when the last big peak in the 1990’s. But, Boeing is doing so with 1/3 fewer workers, in their place Boeing is turning to robots and to outsourcing. Over the past year, they have installed four banks of 2 story riveting machines at their 737 factory in Renton, WA. These 60 ton robots work twice as fast as people and have two-thirds fewer defects. At their 777 plant in Everett, WA, they have installed robotic arms to drill and rivet fuselages together. According to Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg the machines are “taking what is in the neighborhood of 50,000 to 70,000 fasteners in the 777 fuselage that are today applied by hand and automating them,” and that it is a “huge transformation in how we build airplanes.” Boeing believes that automation is essential to improve quality and worker safety, while also lowering costs and helping them keep up with their rival Airbus.

Will any other domestic airplane manufacturers switch to using robots? Should the workers at Boeing be frightened of losing their jobs to robots?

Robots are helping run the first ‘fully digital’ hospital in North America

According to an article published on October 25th, 2015 in the Tech Insider, http://www.techinsider.io/robots-are-helping-run-the-first-fully-digital-hospital-in-north-america-2015-10, patients entering the Humber River Hospital in Toronto, CA will not only interact with healthcare professionals, but also with automated robots that have been programmed to complete a variety of tasks in the hospital. Humber River Hospital is touting itself as the first fully digital hospital. They opened their doors to the public this week and are using automated robots for everything from delivering food and medical supplies to patients, to preparing and administering chemotherapy drugs. The robots that are used to move medical supplies are designed to pick up carts, call an elevator, and deliver them to the appropriate place. The robots that assist with the delivery of chemotherapy medication receive orders of the drugs that need to be mixed from the physician, then check the dose and the patient’s previous medical doses, mix the drugs, and then finally deliver the drugs. There are also robots in the radiology rooms that move around the patient to take scans, rather than the patient contorting their body into difficult positions to take the scans. In addition, all rooms in the hospital have a touch-pad system where patients can access their electronic health record, Skype, order food, and read books. This is a great example of how robotics is changing the healthcare and medical industry.

What other tasks could robots perform in a hospital? Would you go a hospital that treated you and mixed your medicine with robots?

Honda designing new ASIMO-style robot for disaster response

An article published on October 13th, 2015 in Extreme Tech, http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/216188-honda-designing-new-asimo-style-robot-for-disaster-response, states that Honda is developing a new version of their ASIMO robot that could be useful in dangerous settings to help keep humans out of harm’s way. The current ASIMO robot is arguably the most advanced robot in the world, so why didn’t Honda put their robots into action during the Fukushima nuclear disaster? It wasn’t the cost of the robots, it was that ASIMO would have essentially been useless in that situation. At the point ASIMO was not capable of navigating the chaotic environment of a damaged nuclear reactor. Because of this, Honda has already began working on prototype disaster robots that can negotiate obstacles and climb ladders. A humanoid robot, such as ASIMO, is vastly more useful than other types of robots in a dangerous setting, because there is going to be ladders, stairs, doors, and walkways that other types of robots would not be able to navigate. As of now, there is no target for when the disaster robot will be ready for action. But either way, this is a great example of how robotics is changing the way things have traditionally been done.

Do you think that disaster response robots could really be effective? How long will it take Honda to develop a fully functional disaster response robot?

Amazon Robotics: IoT (Internet of Things) In The Warehouse

According to an article posted on 9/28/2015 in Information Week, http://www.informationweek.com/strategic-cio/amazon-robotics-iot-in-the-warehouse/d/d-id/1322366, the real magic behind the Internet of Things (IoT) is already happening at Amazon’s massive fulfillment centers around the US. They currently have thousands of robots operating in these locations gathering merchandise for individual orders. Previously to fulfill an order, Amazon warehouse workers had to roam the floor scanning racks of merchandise in order to find a specific product. But now, Kiva Systems has developed a method to use robots to move the racks or “pods” on which the products are stored instead of having them search out the individual product itself. There are two versions of this robot, the “G” for pods weighing up to 750 lbs and the “S” for pods weighing up to 3,000 lbs. They can operate for 60 minutes, followed by a brief 5 minute charge time. They are controlled by a centralized computer system and have 2 powered wheels that allow them to rotate in place, floor cameras and QR codes on the floor so that they can determine their location/direction, and IR sensors for obstacle detection. Once the customer clicks the “buy” button online, priority is determined and the robots locate and move the pod to the assigned packing station so that a worker can prepare the order for shipment. The robots have managed to keep Amazon’s warehouses fully employed. The system is designed so that when a worker is not packing an order, they have time to restock shelves or do an inventory check of a pod brought in by a robot, instead of scouring Amazon’s massive warehouse for an individual item.

If you were an employee at one of these warehouses would you be worried about your job? How far will Amazon take the use of robots in their fulfillment centers? What is next application for robots at Amazon?

5 Robotics Stocks to Watch (the Droids You’re Looking For)

According to an article posted on September 10th, 2015 in The Street, (http://www.thestreet.com/story/13281861/1/5-robotics-stocks-to-watch-the-droids-you%E2%80%99re-looking-for.html) robots could soon be doing much more than just assembling your car or cleaning house, they could also be included in your investment portfolio. The Boston Consulting Group believes that the rapid growth in the robotics industry will be due to several factors. Currently robots perform roughly 10% of all manufacturing tasks, but they believe that number will jump to 25% by 2025. By the same year, they estimate that automation will cut manufacturing costs by 18-33% and increase productivity by 30% in countries such as South Korea, China, Japan, Germany, and the US. They also state that it’s not only the reduction in labor costs that’s increasing the trend in automation, it’s that the actual price of robots is decreasing over time. For example, the cost of an advanced robotic spot welder has dropped 27% since 2005, from an average of $182,000 to $133,000. The firm believes that price will continue to decrease an additional 22% by 2025. All of these factors and more are a clear sign to investors that the industrial robotics industry is going to experience rapid growth. The article projects that there are 5 robotics stocks to watch due to the growth in the automation industry. Those stocks are Google (GOOG), Yaskawa Electric (YASKY), ABB Ltd. (ABB), iRobot (IRBT), and Ekso Bionics Holding (EKSO). These companies are expected to see rapid growth through mergers and acquisitions in the robotics industry, and because they are currently industry leaders in robotics and focus on robotics innovations. Will the robotics industry actually grow like it is projected? How risky are some of the 5 stocks mentioned? Would you invest in any of these specific stocks?

Industrial robotics market likely to reach $41.17 billion globally by 2020

An article published on September 8th, 2015 in the Control Engineering Asia magazine (http://www.ceasiamag.com/2015/09/industrial-robotics-marketT-likely-to-reach-41-17-billion-globally-by-2020/) describes how the industrial robotics market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.4% globally from 2013 to 2020 and will reach a market size of $41.17 billion in 2020. The market size in 2012 was $26.78 billion, but the reduction of duties on refurbished goods in the Asia Pacific and rapid growth in automation demands are causing the increase in the market. The use of industrial robotics in alternative applications is expected to grow such as in the electronics and healthcare industries. Among the different types of robots- articulated, cylindrical, SCARA, and Cartesian- articulated had the largest share of the market in 2012 at $12.97 billion. Although cylindrical robots are expected to grow at a faster pace at a CAGR of 6.5% through 2020. The robotics market is also segmented into many different industries including the automotive, electrical/electronics, metals, chemical, rubber and plastics, machinery, food and beverage, and a variety of others. Of these industries, the automotive sector had the largest share in the market in 2012 at $7.37 billion. However, the food and beverage industry is expected to see the highest growth rate at a CAGR of 6.9% through 2020. Lastly, robots are segmented by the function that they perform including soldering and welding, material handling, assembling, disassembling, painting, cutting, milling, etc . Of these functions materials handling had the largest section of the market. What is the future of the industrial robotics industry? What industry benefits the most from robotics? How would you justify the costs of a robot? Will there eventually be more robots in industry than humans?