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Power partnerships

03 March 2020

Warehouse automation is not a new concept by any stretch of the imagination, but the combination of online retail giants pushing for greater productivity and rapid technological advances in terms of AI, vision and robotics mean the sector is seeing ever more innovative use of automation. Charlotte Stonestreet highlights some of the latest examples

Today, it is not uncommon for established businesses to team up with, or indeed buy out right, start-ups at the cutting edge of the technology – think for example of Amazon’s recent acquisition of Canvas Technology and its navigation algorithms based on high-definition RGB cameras, which enable mobile robots to operate in more dynamic, complex, and challenging environments and to achieve more intelligent path planning in response to different objects and situations.

Identifying significant opportunity for AI-enabled robotics solutions across a broad range of applications including logistics, warehousing, and parcels and mail sorting, ABB has entered into partnership with Silicon Valley AI start-up, Covariant. The partnership brings together the two companies with a shared vision for robotics enabled by AI, where intelligent robots work alongside humans in dynamic environments, collectively learning and improving with every task completed.

The Covariant Brain is a universal AI that allows robots to see, reason and act in the world around them, completing tasks too complex and varied for traditional programmed robots. Covariant’s software enables robots to engage in reinforcement learning: adapting to new tasks on their own through trial and error and therefore constantly broadening the range of objects they can pick.

The first installation of the ABB and Covariant AI-enabled solution is already being deployed at Active Ants (part of the bpost group), a leading provider of e-commerce fulfilment services for web businesses in Utrecht in the Netherlands.

Autonomous piece-picking

Japan’s leading provider of quality products and services for offices, education, commercial facilities and distribution centers, Okamura Corporation, and RightHand Robotics (RHR), a leader in providing autonomous robotic picking solutions have announced a partnership to further automate warehouse operations; RHR’s autonomous piece-picking solution, RightPick2, will be integrated with Okamura’s logistics solutions, such as AutoStore.

With the demand for e-commerce and product assortment rapidly increasing, the need for piece-picking solutions has grown significantly. Additionally, labor shortages in the logistics industry, including securing employees for mundane tasks such as picking, has become a challenge for warehouse managers.

the need for piece-picking solutions has grown significantly

Okamura’s material handling systems are designed to achieve safer, faster, easier and more precise operations. Its business is not only to streamline logistics, but also to research, develop and provide new material handling systems to meet the diverse needs of customers. With the integration of RightPick2, operator workloads and errors will decrease and warehouse efficiency and productivity will improve.

RightPick2 handles the core task of picking and placing individual items as part of a wide range of warehouse workflows and processes. It works collaboratively with logistics facility employees and existing manual or automated systems, providing businesses with a vital productivity boost as part of a lean and highly efficient material handling process. The solution combines an intelligent gripper, advanced computer vision, control software and machine learning to provide reliable automation to customers.

Intralogistics innovator Dematic has announced that its parent company KION GROUP AG has completed the acquisition of Digital Applications International Limited (DAI), a UK-based software company specialising in logistics automation solutions, on its behalf.

The addition of DAI significantly expands Dematic’s intralogistics software offerings to support the movement, storage and distribution of goods through the entire supply chain. DAI’s core product is a warehouse management system (WMS) that broadens the capabilities of Dematic iQ automation by allowing a wider range of applications — from primarily manual operations to the fully automated supply chain ecosystems. The combined offerings will be especially attractive to new customers who desire a single software platform and after-market customers looking to add on to existing software.

“This deal marks a significant moment in time for Dematic and for intralogistics as a whole,” said Hasan Dandashly, CEO, Dematic. “Software is no longer something extra to be added to a solution — it is a fundamental, inextricable part of all solutions. And now with this combined software portfolio we can provide our customers with entirely new business models to make them more competitive and power the future of commerce.”

With full WMS capabilities, Dematic will be able to offer an entry point for customers early in their automation journey and a powerful add-on for more experienced customers. The acquisition is an essential step to support the digital transformation to smart supply chains and consumer-demand driven urban strategies.

AI-driven automation software

Wagner Logistics has implemented inVia's AI-driven automation software in its Edgerton, Kansas warehouse. inVia's software includes the newly introduced inVia PickMate tool which increases warehouse workers' productivity and accuracy by directing them to the most efficient route through the warehouse to take products from inventory to pack out. In the coming months, Wagner plans to deploy inVia Picker robots to work in tandem with its warehouse workers to further automate its order fulfillment process.

A key component of inVia's automation software is inVia Logic. It employs AI to map a customer's warehouse and calculate the most efficient paths for moving goods through the fulfillment process, from replenishment to picking to put back. inVia PickMate is a simple user interface that directs warehouse workers to follow these paths and pick accurate products to order bins, generally doubling productivity over manual processes.

"inVia's system will double Wagner's warehouse workers' productivity with the introduction of PickMate and then quadruple productivity with the addition of Picker robots," said Lior Elazary, chief executive officer and co-founder of inVia Robotics. "Scalability is critical in warehouse automation and we are excited to be able to offer incremental efficiency with the implementation of our software followed by  our robots."

When Wagner adds inVia Picker robots to its warehouse in the coming months, inVia's software will continually adapt to provide optimized pick paths for both workers and robots, without the need for additional integration with Wagner's Warehouse Management System.

Smart logistics solutions provider, Geek+ has enabled same-day delivery for Nike in Japan, providing advanced robotics solutions to Nike’s new distribution center in Chiba, in the form of more than 200 robots from its goods-to-person P series line. The smart robots carry Nike products and packages directly to the warehouse worker, reducing costs, increasing picking efficiency and making daily work easier on the warehouse operators.

With the rapid growth of ecommerce, labour shortages in the logistics industry have become a serious economic issue. Although warehouses globally are still mainly manually operated, the need for automation and new robotics technology is fast increasing to meet the demand and challenges brought by the massive growth of online platforms. Major retailers such as Nike are introducing robots to transform their logistics operations; smart robots guarantee lower cost, efficiency, flexibility and safety in the warehouse.

Cloud robotics and on-demand automation specialist, Fetch Robotics, announced the immediate availability of Workflow Builder, the company’s new drag-and-drop development toolkit that allows customers to implement flexible automation in existing manufacturing, distribution and fulfillment facilities without the time, expense, and inflexibility of fixed automation or traditional autonomous mobile robots (AMRs).


Based on Blockly, the language used to teach non-programmers to code, Fetch Robotic's Workflow Builder provides a visual and intuitive tool that customers can use to deploy flexible automation in days, iterate to perfect workflows, change workflows as needs evolve, and later integrate into WMSs (warehouse management systems), WESs (warehouse execution systems), or fixed automation — and do all of this in-house without having to rely on third-party resources.

Workflow Builder was created as a simple to use, on-demand alternative to fixed warehouse automation solutions or traditional AMR solutions. Fixed automation solutions require the expense and time of a third party for design, installation and maintenance. Fixed automation solutions are also difficult and costly to modify, making it challenging for warehouse managers to adapt to changing business needs or workflows.

Traditional AMR solutions often require facilities to be modified, floors to be labeled with QR codes, and integration with a WMS is immediately required as part of the implementation. While these solutions can be impactful, they are expensive and time consuming to deploy, and often lead to workflows that can’t be updated or changed without extensive outside support.

Workflow Builder removes these pain points by allowing customers to design, implement, and redesign their own custom automation workflows using Fetch’s AMRs, removing the need for any third-party integration work and saving both time and cost. With a simple, easy-to-use automation development environment that requires no coding, Workflow Builder gives customers a platform that enables them to develop and deploy their own automation in days, and continue to iterate on workflows as business needs change or are added. When paired with Fetch’s RaaS (Robots-as-a-Service) cloud-based business model, Workflow Builder allows companies to see ROI almost immediately, modify workflows until perfect, and then complete the integration work later if desired.

Key Points

  • Identifying significant opportunity for AI-enabled robotics solutions ABB has entered into partnership with Silicon Valley AI start-up, Covariant
  • Okamura Corporation and RightHand Robotics (RHR) have announced a partnership to further automate warehouse operations
  • inVia Logic employs AI to map a warehouse and calculate the most efficient paths for moving goods through the fulfillment process