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Mobile Platforms Address E-Commerce at MODEX 2018
April 10, 2018      

MODEX continues this week, with 900 suppliers of manufacturing and logistics technology filling two exhibit halls in Atlanta. Many of the show’s attendees represent the global e-commerce market, which will have a compound annual growth rate of 20% to reach $4 trillion by 2020, according to Nielson. In response, several robotics companies have announced mobile platforms around the show.

Software is definitely becoming a differentiator for suppliers, and resource scarcity is another theme for many suppliers, reducing manpower needs through automation.

Mobile platforms take MODEX

Canvas Technology (Booth B4686): Canvas Technology unveiled its latest autonomous mobile cart last fall and is demonstrating it publicly for the first time this week. It also recently raised $15 million to accelerate development.

This Boulder, Colo.-based company is using vision guidance to navigate autonomously through a facility. Canvas Visual Perception is different from the lidar-based navigation of the majority of autonomous mobile robot (AMR) suppliers.

Watch our recent RBR webcast with Canvas Technology to learn more about the latest in mobile platforms.

Seegrid Robotics (Booth B1424): Seegrid said this week that its vehicles have surpassed 1 million miles of autonomous driving without a single accident.

The company has more than 500 vehicles in production, which implies that each vehicle has averaged 2,000 miles so far.

In addition, Seegrid is adding software features to its mobile platforms, including the ability to integrate bar-code scanning of the load being picked up to ensure quality. The software can also verify destination planning via the warehouse management system.

Seegrid’s systems can dynamically manage the global robot navigation map to restrict and reroute vehicles when an aisle is shut down for a spill or blocked by a picker.

Dematic (Booths B2946, B3047): Dematic introduced a portfolio of automated systems for omni-channel fulfillment at MODEX, including a new “goods-to-robot” solution. The Dematic Robotic Piece Picking Module is intended to eliminate costly picking labor. The robot is able to identify parts in bins and pick items as required to fulfill orders.

Locus Robotics (Booth B4277): Locus Robotics Advanced Navigation 3.0 (LRAN3) addresses one of the most challenging aspects of fulfillment robotics and automation: the dynamic nature of the warehouse,” said Rick Faulk, CEO of Locus Robotics. “LRAN3 enables LocusBots to actively adapt to minute-by-minute changes within a facility, identifying obstacles and navigating tactically around them, to successfully complete their mission.”

The result is that LocusBots continually scan the environment and dynamically update a navigation map that is shared to all of the robots in the fleet. LRAN3 introduces proxemics navigation, which is designed to allow LocusBots to navigate more smoothly with tighter tolerances. This includes queuing features to improve efficiencies in tight aisles.

Locus offers its robots through a robots-as-a-service (RaaS) model and currently has hundreds of robots deployed on customer sites.

The company claimed that LRAN3 can help its customers expand their fleet during the peak season. Robots can be uncrated, powered up, and immediately join fleet operations onsite, without any training or programming, Locus said.

Nextshift Robotics (Booth C2363): “NextShift Robotics makes e-commerce fulfillment dramatically more efficient and less costly,” said Mary Ellen Sparrow, co-founder and CEO of NextShift Robotics. “Our robots collaborate with workers, allowing them to pick merchandise quickly and efficiently.”

NextShift’s robotic fleet is developed specifically for the warehouse environment. Self-lighting and smart navigation technology are combined with the unique capability to load and unload order totes unassisted.

NextShift Robotics was formed when Sparrow purchased the warehouse technology from Harvest Automation in 2016. This strategy provided NextShift with a proven technology base to start an e-commerce business, and it has enabled Harvest Automation to focus on agriculture.

Sitback Vehicles (Booth B3736): Sitback Vehicles demonstrated its technology at the ProMat show last spring. This week, the vendor is demonstrating its technology, which was one of the first autonomous industrial carts to come to market in this form factor.

Tompkins Robotics (Booth B727): Tompkins Robotics, a division of Tompkins International, has introduced a revolutionary unit and parcel sortation system. According to the company, t-Sort is the world’s first, portable automated sortation system.

SI Systems was a development partner, and the mobile platform was designed to outperform that of Amazon Robotics (formerly Kiva Systems) in the emerging uni-channel fulfillment ecosystem.

Each robot performs similarly to a tilt-tray or cross-belt sorter, but without a track, navigating in any direction instead. The robots are small and operate on a raised platform, enabling them to drop product off into bins or boxes at a convenient and ergonomic level.

The solution is also available as a RaaS offering.

Autonomous industrial carts

Also of note this week at MODEX is that there are two vendors showing off autonomous industrial carts. Not to be confused with automatic guided carts (AGC), these mobile platforms effectively use AMR technology in a mobile cart form factor.

This allows these vehicles to navigate freely throughout the facility. These autonomous industrial carts are completely self-contained vehicles. There are already several cart moving solutions on the market by several of the AMR market leaders, including Omron Adept Technologies (not at MODEX), Aethon (not at MODEX), and the new Cart Connect product announcement this week from Fetch Robotics.