Warehouse Robots

We are expecting the largest growth of robotics to be in the warehouse industry with sales in 2022 projected to be nearly 6 billion dollars US.

We’ve all seen fast moving robot arms in car manufacturing plants for years but we are now seeing more and more of the fast moving cart like robots scurrying around in large warehouses like Amazon and mid to small sized warehouses all over the world doing different things.

It is said that Amazon has over 200,000 robots working in their warehouse network around the world.

Warehouse robots are usually the simplest type of moving robot costing between $3k and $20k each but the better ones can be operated or at least monitored remotely by a new type of job category called a “robot wrangler”.

These robots are simpler because they operate in a flat controlled indoor environment and for the least amount of money you could have them follow either physical tracks on the ground or black marked lines or curves if you didn’t have the budget for more computerized or autonomous motion.

The Amazon robots have made it to the news on many occasions although the company doesn’tunderstandable tend to promote their private corporate robot strategies.

We first got to see Amazon’s smaller orange colored robots that could go under and move 1,000 pound loads which came from the Kiva Robotics company which is a company that they purchased in 2012.

Amazon apparently uses at least 5 or 6 different kinds of robots but this is becoming quite common in many huge manufacturing and warehousing corporations in the world.

The trend among robot manufacturers is to name their robots either after a type of animal or some other cute sounding object or something related to robot history.

You can go on YouTube and watch videos of an Amazon fullfillment center and see hundreds of 2 foot square Roomba looking robots underneatch 8 feet of shelved products going up and down and left and right.

The mobile robots are mostly traveling in straight lines on the floor positioning products to be sorted or dealt with by human operators in some way. It is like watching a choreographed ballet of hundreds of scurrying robot mechanical foot soldier workers.

Now, in warehouses around the world, there are often 3 main kinds of robots in use

  1. robots to get the products to the human workers
  2. collaborative robots that help the workers
  3. yard robots

Now one can also use more technical terms to categorize warehouse robots like this:

  1. AS/RS automated storage and retreival system robots
  2. Goods to person (G2P) robots
  3. AGC automated Guided Cast
  4. AGV automated guided vehicle- like a forklift that does not need an operator
  5. AMR autonomous materials robot
  6. a robot arm for picking pallets or boxes etc

Here now are some of the duties that robots perform in a warehouse

  1. loading goods
  2. sorting and picking
  3. palletizing or placing hundreds of pounds of product onto wooden pallets to be picked up by forklifts
  4. storage
  5. transport and delivery

How do the warehouse robots move and who or what are controlling them?

Well this can vary a lot depending on how sophistocated the robot is or how sophistocated the purchasing and robot using company is.

The simplest warehouse robots are the kind that don’t require some or any programming at all, by simply letting the robots photo sensors move the robot to follow a permanent black marking path on the floor that you make once or repeatedly when you erase and remark the black lines every day or hour.

The slightly more complex robot requires a basic program which may simply require the operator to write a basic list or recipe telling the robot how many times to turn left and right and go backwards over and over all day.

Then we get into more expensive robots with sensors and some brain power so that not only will they not collide with other robots or people but they may have some autonomous movement and allow the operators to monitor or move them located in dozens of warehouses by one or a handful of remote human operators in a job type like a “robot wrangler”.

We have seen basic robot vacuums progress in the last 10 years from robot vacuums that simply changed direction when they hit the leg of a table to those that the operator would need to tell the vacuum which rooms to go to and what furniture to avoid.

Then we have vacuums which can map your specific floor out for you usin its LiDar sensor on top and other advanced electronics and of course allow you to watch and change its pattern remotely using a standard phone app.

So to summarize here are some types of robot movement in a warehouse.

  1. move on physical tracks like a small train or wires
  2. magnetic tape on the floor
  3. labels or laser
  4. some vision system
  5. GPS or geomapping
  6. LiDar which is Light detection and Ranging

So its obvious that there are a lot of jobs in this field either in helping to design or build these robots or in repairing and monitoring them.