September 20, 2017      

Increased demand for customization and omni-channel order fulfillment is driving supply chain companies to invest in transformational robotic and artificial intelligence-based solutions. Likewise, industrial robotic solutions providers are offering combined hardware and software solutions to the materials handling industry to meet enhance Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) initiatives.

While traditional robot manufacturers are starting to increase their focus on software and AI developments to further advance their systems, Nashville-based Universal Logic, formerly known as Universal Robotics, has been able to approach the integration of hardware and software from a different direction.

For more than a decade, the 2017 RBR50 company has developed state-of-the-art AI solutions to enable robot and machine automation to react and adapt to their environments to perform highly specialized tasks and data analysis. Universal Logic’s flagship AI, Neocortex, is supported by its advanced multi-dimensional sensing and motion controls.

“People tend to place a monolith over AI, but AI includes a bunch of discrete tools that have developed over the last 50 years,” said Universal Logic CEO David Peter. “We use a whole host of those tools in order to allow our system to recognize things that are not possible with just vision.”

In March 2017, the company announced the formation of a new company, Universal Logic, and unveiled the expansion of its AI-enabled “labor-replacement” Neocortex Goods to Robot (G2R) Cells.

“The systems are unique because you are integrating AI with vision, grasping and motion control to give machines human like flexibility at a high speed to handle order fulfillment, bin picking, part induction and assembly,” said Universal Logic vice president Hob Wubbena. “This is a real shift when supply chain managers think about potential robotic applications.”

G2R Series Exceeds Human Pick Speeds

The family line of G2R cells, carrying the names “Small G2R-S,” “Medium G2R-M” and “Large G2R-L,” offer high mix, high volume picking speeds ranging from 600-1400 picks per hour, peaking at 1600 per hour, and offering payload capacities ranging from 1 lb. to 50 lbs.

Because the G2R’s cycle times typically exceed human speeds by 25%, Wubbena said paybacks are 9-12 months can be realized.

G2R Series Reliability

The reliability factor of the Neocortex G2R series is based on concurrent algorithms that examine the proposed action of the system in multiple ways and determines the probability of the decision the machine is to make. Image capture to robot control, including real-time artificial intelligence, can be done in as fast as 500 milliseconds.

G2R Series Flexibility

The G2R series offers the easy integration and small footprint similar to collaborative robots, but provides the strength, speed and capacity of an industrial robot, making it a flexible solution for various applications, including order fulfillment, random bin picking, part induction and machine tending. The company says standard installation of a Neocortex G2R Cell can happen within 24 hours and typical training on the unit can occur within two shifts.

The G2R Cells can be easily moved throughout warehouse and production facilities into different work stations.

Historically, robots are pre-programmed offline and then brought online to execute on the task that is has been programmed to do. The G2R series has the ability to update path plans and conduct grasp analysis in real time, as well as pick items never seen before due to the Neocortex AI and advanced vision and motion control.

“The loop of sensory-motor behavior self-organizes which means the systems learn as we do. It captures attributes of the experience, giving it a high degree of flexibility,” Wubbena said.

The Neocortex AI can reside in the actual work cell, sit in a remote server or be accessed through a cloud connection.

G2R Cells Enable Greater Operational Efficiency

Universal Logic’s approach to the market is straight forward. It offers “a cost-effective replacement for human labor where there are labor shortages and/or a desire to create greater operational efficiency and cost savings,” Peters said.

“The G2R Cells average half the cost of labor at about $7 an hour. This includes Neocortex AI as a software as a service (SaaS) approach, which users leveraging the AI capabilities of the Neocortex platform pay a monthly subscription after the first year.” “However, using traditional automation approaches to try and replicate all the components, including the AI software, you are probably looking at $175K to $200K,” he added.

Without question, legacy robot manufacturers are aggressively working to offer holistic hardware and software solutions to meet the demand of companies pushing IOT/IIoT initiatives and investors are pouring money into start-ups trying to offer similar turnkey supply chain solutions.

Commenting on all the AI-related activity occurring, Wubbena says Universal Logic is staying focused on delivering high value to customers. “We know companies are trying to replicate the bundled technology that we produce, but there is a lot that goes into it and it’s a very high barrier to entry. There is a vast difference from picking multiple products in a lab, versus picking 900 items per hour from tens of thousands of SKUs at 100% accuracy without human intervention 99.5% of the time. There’s been a lot of time, expertise, and experience that goes into our solutions.”