Labor-saving robotics is all the rage in large, high-velocity DCs these days. Typically, these sophisticated machines ferry pallets and containers to locations where humans take over the tasks of putaway, shipping, and the like.
But that, apparently, is not quite enough for the U.S. Air Force (USAF). According to a report on Discover magazine's website, the USAF has hired two companies to develop robotic pallets.
In his entertaining "Discoblog" entry "Lend a Hand, C3PO? Self-Loading Luggage Is on the Air Force's Wishlist," Patrick Morgan writes that HSTAR Technologies is working on a platform that can "talk" to a dispatcher and take directions from him or her. HSTAR's prototype also has omnidirectional wheels for turning around in tight spaces. Another company, Stratom Inc., proposes to adapt the standard military pallet so it can drive itself wherever it needs to go and communicate with a dispatcher and other cargo robots. According to Morgan, Stratom's proposal says the technology could be commercialized.