March 13, 2018

HighJump: Voice technology will continue to unify future DC technologies

Robots are coming to the DC, but voice directed tools aren't going away yet, firm says.

By Ben Ames

The "warehouse of the future" may rely on robotics and other advanced technologies to increase productivity in fulfillment operations, but the familiar tool of voice-directed operations will continue to be the foundation of DC work for years to come, executives with HighJump Software Inc. said today.

Employers throughout the logistics industry are looking to technology for ways to increase their productivity, weighing options like robotics, augmented reality (AR), and artificial intelligence (AI), HighJump CEO Chad Collins said in a session at the company's annual Elevate user conference in Dallas.

Businesses are pressured to find new solutions as they struggle with a tight labor market where unemployment is low, wages are rising, and fewer people want to work in warehouse, Collins said. The most effective solutions will come from a combination of various solutions operating in concert, not layers of different technologies replacing each other, he said. For now, the conductor will be voice technology, according to Collins.

"As we move forward, there will be less and less people working in warehouses. The approach of expanding the capabilities of a warehouse by adding more people to the operation is at its peak," he said. That approach will soon be replaced by a combination of mobile devices, robotics, fixed automation, and people, according to Collins.

"And to accommodate that, we need a strong foundation in voice," he said. "Because with fewer people in the warehouse, voice is how people will interact with the computer system, how they will interact with the automation system, and how they will interact with the overall flow of goods."

Another reason that voice technology will endure is that while many advanced automation platforms are excellent at supporting large volume and fast throughput, voice-directed work is the best way to train new hires to use other powerful technologies, HighJump said.

HighJump says it is preparing for the scenario of mixed technologies in the DC by building warehouse management system (WMS) software platforms that enable voice control as well as using automation control features borrowed from other firms owned by HighJump's corporate parent, the German logistics technology provider Korber AG, the firm said this week.

The Minneapolis-based firm has grown through a series of acquisitions, and it is continuing that approach. HighJump has launched WMS products that include some automation control elements absorbed from its sister company Inconso, a German software vendor, and plans to make future integrations with Magazino, a European robotics company focused on the logistics sector, in which Korber purchased a minority stake in February, Collins said.

In addition, HighJump is leveraging technologies from Vitech Business Group Inc., the Bellingham, Wash.-based voice-directed picking technology vendor it acquired in 2017.

"Some customers say voice is old fashioned, that robots and AR are the next wave," Collins said. "And robotics are likely to come soon, frankly. But voice is a proven tech with strong [return on investment], and a proven way for workers to interact with systems."

About the Author

Ben Ames
Senior Editor
Ben Ames has spent 20 years as a journalist since starting out as a daily newspaper reporter in Pennsylvania in 1995. From 1999 forward, he has focused on business and technology reporting for a number of trade journals, beginning when he joined Design News and Modern Materials Handling magazines. Ames is author of the trail guide "Hiking Massachusetts" and is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism.

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