Automatic Goods Handling

Unloading trucks is wearisome for people, but hardly an intellectual challenge. For robots, it is the reverse: robots never tire. They do, however, have problems interpreting the data streaming in from the cameras and laser scanners that allow them to evaluate their surroundings. Seeing where one box in the back of a crowded lorry ends and another begins is second nature to a human being. But even the best artificial-vision systems may struggle with this.

And that’s just the start. What should the robot do with what it sees? The less tidy the contents, the greater the problem. Shrink-wrapped pallets of packages are one thing; the miscellaneous jumbles of objects handled by parcel-delivery businesses are quite another. Cases may get wedged or be fumbled. Or the robot may need to determine how to lift an irregular consignment, like a set of skis. People learn how to do such things gradually as they grow up. And machines have to learn, too. But that takes time and a lot of training.

Unloading trucks is therefore one of the few parts of operating a warehouse that has resisted automation. But not for much longer. A new generation of cargo-handling robots is poised to take on the task.

Read the rest of the article to learn how the robotics division of Honeywell has changed warehouse automation for good.