Anyone who's gone grocery shopping at the end of a long day knows the unique misery of trudging through endless aisles pushing a balky grocery carriage. Multiply that by, say, a factor of eight and you get an idea of the daily challenge some DC order pickers face.
Now, robotic designers are providing solutions that are applicable to both warehouse pickers and retail shoppers. Technology companies in Europe and the U.S. have introduced automated trolleys that follow pickers through a warehouse—or shoppers through a store—collecting items and eliminating the need for humans to push or pull heavy carts.
In the warehouse version, global logistics giant DHL recently finished a pilot using robotic technology for collaborative order picking in its DHL Supply Chain warehouse in Unna, Germany. For the trial, DHL deployed a robot called EffiBOT, a fully automated trolley from the French startup Effidence that tags along with pickers as they move through the warehouse. During the test, two robots supported the facility's employees by following the pickers, carrying the weight, and automatically dropping off the orders at a packing station.
Watch a short video of EffiBOT:
As for retail applications, in December, Wall, N.J.-based Five Elements Robotics introduced a robotic shopping cart called Dash. Grocery shoppers can walk up to a Dash unit and transfer a shopping list from their phone. The robot then maps out the best route for retrieving the items and leads the shopper through the store. When the order is finished, Dash can use an onboard scanner and payment system to complete the purchase, avoiding checkout lines. It will even follow the customer out to his or her car to unload. Empty carts head back to the store to plug in, recharge, and rest their feet—er, wheels—until the next shopper calls.
See Dash in action:
This item appears in our February 2017 print edition under the title "Carry that weight."