Robots that sense space
- How does your technology work and for whom is it?
"First of all,
Usually these problems appear whentransportation of materials and goods in internal logistic processes. They arise from the architecture of the building and the structure of the work. When a warehouse is designed with growth potential for the next five to seven years, some problems accumulate during this time. Pipelines appear, storage systems, and so on. Companies are very hesitantly investing in technologies that optimize warehouse operations. So our task is to understand how you can take a robotic system and implement it in the most efficient way in terms of money and time.
FBA (Fulfillment by Amazon)— a business model according to which most of the seller's responsibilities for the storage, packaging, and delivery of goods are transferredto Amazon.
Our robots can interact with each other.friend, "feel" the space, avoid collisions. Now we are calibrating our strategies, trying to figure out how to optimize the whole process from goods entering the warehouse until they leave its limits.
Photo: Anton Karliner / Haytek
- How automated are robots and what exactly can they do? As I understand it, they are engaged in the movement of goods in warehouses and help workers. What else can?
— Yes, robots do not replace people, but work together with them — and they can'tIn addition to moving goods and reading space, they interactCan control elevators and hoists, open doors, control other electronic equipment, interact with the conveyor system.Because of this, they can really be called collaborative smart robots.
Collaborative robotis an automatic device that can work in conjunction with humans to create or manufacture a variety of products.Like industrial robots, cobots consist of a manipulator and a reprogrammable control device that formscontrol actions that set the required movements of the manipulator's actuators.
Collaborative robots are used in production to solve problems that cannot be fully automated.
- These automated systems in each warehouse are different, there is no single standard?
— There are some differences, yes.
- And you need to develop a new custom solution for each client?
- No, the robots themselves do not change. This, of course, is not a robot that can be taken out of the box, and it will work - some integration is inevitable. But the idea is to reduce the complexity and cost of this integration to the maximum. Further customization is possible, but the iron will not change.
New ways of automation
- You said that the goal is not to replace people, butfacilitate their work with the help of robots. Some companies on the market, in many ways Amazon does, fully automate their storage facilities. What is the future approach?
-If I'm not mistaken, Amazon controls about70% of the fulfillment market. But they're not like the average company in this market, the average warehouse. Being an e-commerce giant, they are always looking for new ways to automate. But, as I said, they are not representative of the entire industry.
Amazon Roboticsis an American company from Massachusetts, a manufacturer of mobile robotic systems.
Traditionally, storage units are moved through warehouses and other distribution centers using conveyors or forklifts.The company has developed a fundamentally new approach, in which storage elements are placed on special modules and moved by moving robots.Collisions between robots are excluded with the help of special sensors.
Robots will be collaborative in nature -they should be so that people do more advanced things. The goal is to remove the routine work from the lives of ordinary employees and give them more specialized tasks. If we talk about the sphere of complete files, there are robots in your warehouse, people do not disappear from it - they simply reduce the number of kilometers traveled per day. The same in factories. We are discussing the possibility of using robots with BMW, at the Mini Cooper plant in Oxford. They are working on electric Mini, for which the battery weighs a ton. People will not engage in their movement. Now they are moving AGVs that are capable of transporting a ton. Previously, as I guess, they were driven by forklifts operated by a man. And this man is not replaced by a robot. He was simply transferred to another position. We will see a transition that will take several decades, but in the end people will advance in specialization in their work.
Automatically controlled vehicle (from the English. Automated (Automatic) Guided Vehicle (AGV))is a mobile robot used in industry to move goods, goods and materials in the production process or in warehousing.The device is equipped with a system that allows it to navigate in space.It can be used in medical institutions to serve patients with limited mobility.
—But your robots today can not move loads weighing a ton?
-No, and that's not what we're aiming for with this work.AGV does a great job. Currently, the robots can move 100 kg, and the new platform, which will be available at the end of the year, can move 250 kg. Perhaps we will bring this figure to 300 kg.
Photo: Anton Karliner / Haytek
- Technologies in robots are a bit like unmanned vehicles - radar, lidar. How similar are they?
-They are similar, just smaller.The basic technology is not much different - we use lidars, which use lasers to scan rooms. And the robots immediately understand where exactly they are in this space. Our next system will have two lidars, but this is mainly for safety, so that the robot has a 360° view.
The spaces themselves in which autonomous operaterobots and autonomous machines, of course, are completely different. Cars follow GPS, and in the closed space of the warehouse there are walls, cabinets - the robot uses a lidar to isolate these elements and understands how to maneuver between them. In this context, they are similar to machines: if they see a dynamic element on their way, for example, a person, all defense mechanisms will turn on.
- When you start working in a new warehouse, do you mark the whole territory? Is the integration process always different?
- Spaces are always different, but the processsame. Or we have a hand-made lidar with which we walk through the warehouse, or we carry the robot through the warehouse so that it gets a picture. After a full scan, we can build a simulation for robots.
Human fear of the robot
- Already have signed contracts?
- working on it now, it's pretty longprocess. Because, first of all, companies in the UK do not like risk, they are very conservative. Automation is what they will do only under the onslaught of necessity.
- Are companies ready to try new solutions that are not guaranteed to save them money? They require data from you on how you can reduce costs with robots?
-They do not ask for data in this form, yet it is notconveyor system where productivity can be accurately measured. Partly because this is an emerging market, and different robot manufacturers offer different solutions. In the end, this can only work if customers are ready to collaborate with manufacturers of robotic solutions. Develop cases and learn from mistakes. It's not so straightforward - no one says: "We need 100 robots, and if you prove they can do it, we'll buy them." This will never happen due to the uniqueness of each case.
Photo: Anton Karliner / Haytek
- At the moment, such decisions - is it more an experiment or a necessity for retailers?
— It seems to me that there is time for experimentsthere is little left, and we are gradually entering the zone of necessity. The world's population is not decreasing. Resource consumption too. No matter what materials you need, everything will move towards more consumption. Any company with a vision for the future will have to innovate. That's why I really like communicating with European companies - they never ask what it's for. Their vision of the world implies the need for innovation.
British companies can be more conservative- they say: “Well, we’ll wait and see what happens next.” That's one of the reasons we're in this mess with Brexit right now - we don't always know what we're doing. In this context, it takes a long time to convince customers and explain to them what can be achieved with the help of technology.
- You say that in the UK they are afraid of risks and new solutions, but you are a British company. Wouldn't it be easier, even considering brexit, to work in Europe?
-Logistically, the UK is oursthe company was founded there, we want to launch production there. Our co-founders are from China - we tried this path. They tried to build a prototype there and start production. But it didn't turn out very well. We want to maintain this 'Made in Britain' concept. We have a lot of support from the government - Innovate UK, a Horizon 2020 program that gives grants and connects companies in Europe. So we are not isolated. There are European partners. We would be happy to cooperate with partners at the international level - if companies are really serious in building innovative development strategies.
- People often say that robots will replace us all. But you said that in fact in the warehouses do not have enough labor. Where does this fear come from?
-This is very interesting, recently I read stories aboutAsimov's robots. And at the beginning there is a small preface in which he writes exactly about this issue. Why are people afraid of robots? What is the reason? It's not just because of economics, industry, or resources - people have a general fear of artificial intelligence. This fear, of course, was greatly helped by science fiction, remember the scenario of Frankenstein, who created the monster.
Robotics as a concept was next to us onover a very long time. And only in the last decades we begin to see the practical application of robots. For example, in the automotive industry. The current pace of machine production would have been impossible if people had done everything. And not only the pace, but also the build quality. Robotization in production did not appear today, and one can notice that every time automation appears, more engineers appear. They control robots and solve problems. 70 years ago, people thought that computers would replace people, but this did not happen. They created more jobs.
- These new professions that appeardue to automation, they require quite a serious examination. Many Russian technology companies complain that they lack staff. Is the same situation in the UK
- Yes, I would say that in the UK as well. IT professionals in place, but robotics? When we want to hire an employee, it takes a long time — three, four, maybe six months to find a good candidate. And yet there is no diversity. Probably 95% of robotics engineers are men. We want to be more open to everyone, but it’s very difficult to hire people who are almost non-existent.