warehouse drones
December 17, 2014

Warehouse drones are the inventory workers of the future

John Hopton for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

Anyone who works in a warehouse - or for some strange reason reads up on warehouse operations for fun - will know that taking inventory is an essential but frustrating part of warehouse function. It is a long, laborious process and there are health and safety concerns when dealing with stock on very high shelves. What’s the answer? Flying robot staff.

With the InventAIRy Project, German designers are working on smart, flying technology which they hope will save time, remove the safety risks, and prevent stores that keep their stock on site from having to close during stocktaking. And, of course, the technology will give some managers and owners the opportunity to avoid that perennial niggling annoyance: paying pesky human staff a salary.

Flying robots that utilizes ultrasound sensors, 3D cameras, and laser scanners would not only be capable of scanning the barcodes and RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tags as they move past stock, wirelessly relaying the information to a central database, but would also be capable of mapping and becoming familiar with the layout of the warehouse that they are buzzing around.

Marco Freund is a certified logistics specialist heading the InventAIRy Project at Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics IML in Dortmund, Germany. According to Science Daily, he envisages that: "The person in charge is sitting at his desk and at the press of a button, can inspect inventories or perhaps search for a specific item - without incurring any staffing or logistics costs."

The team aim to build a "dynamically animated records system" which involves autonomous flying robots capable of independently navigating and conducting inventory. The airborne robot staff should be able to localize objects both inside the warehouses and in the exterior area, without the need for any human assistance from the ground until they choose to assess the information collected as and when they wish.

"We take a look at various key problem sets at the same time: robustly designed, lightweight flying robots that can reliably recognize their surroundings, as well as intelligent software for their route planning and coordination," Freund explains. "To ensure this solution is also appealing to small and medium-sized enterprises, we intentionally dispensed with the installation of an expensive local infrastructure that the robots can use to orient themselves.”

Without demands for time off or coffee breaks, the machines would be able to maintain a smooth, continuous monitoring of warehouse stock, and without the distractions of tiredness or thinking about the new hottie who was just been employed in admin., the number of documentation errors would decrease.

Freund explains that, "it would be possible to identify materials bottlenecks at an early stage in production, and rectify them even before the shortfalls can occur.” He adds that: "by mid-2015 we intend to start with a partially automated flight. In this phase, the robot equipped with the identification technology hovers - without having to be controlled via remote operation - at one position, and circumvents collisions with obstructions, such as shelves."

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