Locus RoboticsThe Locus robot can zip around a clothing warehouse larger than the size of six football fields. It can also work for 24 hours, without a break for lunch or a salary.
The new bot, created by Locus Robotics, just launched in its first warehouse: a Devens, Massachusetts space owned by Quiet Logistics, a warehousing company that fills online orders for both small startups and megabrands like Zara and Bonobos. The robots transport items that have been picked off the shelves by humans, and bring them to the front of the warehouse to be sealed and delivered.
"We developed a system where the robots do all the walking," Locus Robotics CEO Bruce Welty tells Tech Insider. "As retailers continue to exceed expectation around next-day shipping, they're going to look to technology to help them provide an even faster turn-around."
The bots work alongside humans and do all the normal grunt work. Warehouse workers usually walk 12 to 16 miles each day. With the robots, they don't have to.
The robots now meet the human workers in the middle of the warehouse. As soon as someone completes an order online, the bot's system knows exactly where to go in the 275,000-square-foot warehouse.
Each bot (which doesn't look anything like a human) has a platform for arms and a two-foot-diameter base with wheels for feet. It zips around at about 4.5 mph, or the equivalent of a fast walk. If stray boxes or wires stand in its path, its vision technology can "see" in real-time to avoid them.Locus RoboticsSince the robots are able to move faster than humans without tiring, Welty says the system will boost warehouse productivity by up to 800%. The bots will also not be subject to human error, which means that they can get the order right nearly every time.
As a way to increase productivity and speed, many online retailers have been using robots, conveyor belts, and cranes to fulfill orders for the past decade. Amazon has exclusive rights to Kiva Systems' robots, but Welty says Locus' robots are smaller, and more lightweight and versatile.
Unlike Kiva's bots, the Locus robots can be incorporated into the warehouses' existing infrastructure. The warehouse doesn't need to move any shelves or aisles. Locus can program the robot to navigate the warehouse exactly how it is.
"The robots are less industrial and easier to work side-by-side with humans," Welty says.
The robots won't replace any human jobs in Quiet Logistics' warehouse, at least for the time being. It will change the nature of many of their responsibilities, however. Since they don't need to roam the warehouse's aisles looking for the items, they can use that time for other parts of the distribution process. They can now do what they do best: add a personal touch.
As more retailers shift online and promise greater shipping speeds, there's a growing need to make sure that the orders are not only delivered on-time but also feel personalized. This can be as simple as stuffing boxes with pretty tissue paper or even handwritten notes from the brands — a job fit best for humans.