Robotic automation news

Imagine a warehouse, an employee approaches a stack of boxes. The boxes are different sizes, colours, and they are not placed evenly. The employee can easily sort out the closest and largest or smallest first.

 

In the UK a newspaper’s partner site in Australia, published its first news story in 2019, a program called reportermate. It compiles paragraphs into a news story with very little supervision from a news reporter. While this new advancement won’t make news reporters redundant, in time artificial intelligence could very well change the coverage of news.

While most news outlets don’t like to make known this technology is being used, according to wired it has been predicted that more than ninety percent would be produced using this new software available by the 2030’s. Even academic occupations are at risk.

 

Facebook which would of worked completely differently in the past, now due to the cloud, remote diagnostic of technical problems can be solved without the need for engineers to do so. Software called cyborg monitors thousands of servers, which can detect faults and even repair them, without any employee to physically go to them. One single engineer can monitor up to 20,000 computers.

 

This example shows how a company can build a data center and only need one hundred or less employees using just a piece of software to the majority of the work, a town could have many thousands of residents. Any residents hoping for employment by a mega tech giant will only be left disappointed.

Even beyond a data centre, there is more disruption with the new technology, a data analysis company can need less than two hundred employees using cloud technology, with which in the past would’ve of been in the thousands.

This is our world of automation.

 

Self Service

 

At fast food outlets, Mcdonalds had announced that they’d install checkouts at their European restaurants. This type of new emerging automation will lower labor costs, and make other business follow in this direction. In the United Kingdom, the retail chain Poundland introduced self service checkouts in December 2016, some have the use of card only, while others have the use of both. The supermarket chain Tesco has also used self service checkouts in recent years, in they’re smaller express stores where they are located at trains stations. Much larger stores have also had them installed. In some, there have been very small weighing and sensor pads, too small for larger items. In April 2022 Poundland has introduced another self service machine after refurbishing a shop.

 

The next major change that will take place in the years ahead, is the  use of automation and robotics in shops. The same innovations that have enabled manufacturing robots to advance the frontier or physical dexterity, and visual recognition will allow retail automation to move from present warehouses into the shops, supermarkets to do shelf filling tasks.Vending machines and Kiosks. These two changes to the retail sector as the next big transformation. This new self service technology is in no doubt going to remove the service employee role, there will be still other forms of employment. Maintenance, and general repair, how ever these will be limited.

 

Remote working

A new development has emerged in the use of operating machinery from another location. A company has setup a computer system that can be logged into without the operator having been present while the task  is needed to be done. A supervisor can manage a business from many miles away, an employee can operate a fork lift vehicle from hundreds of miles away in another county. This technology works with both people present and remotely, while this will be true as this technology is more widely used, better more mature technology would scale back an employee work force. This changes the employment factor, by having any new employee login it enables a strong continuous employee numbers so there won’t be any travel delays or relocating for some. This also means a higher safety record for the company using this technology, with less workers present near machinery and having a remote observation off site, so safer, and healthier working, and longer duration staff employment. This new development will bring a much larger group of people than previously before, since for example, fork lift operation required a lot of training and safety, and due to that alone put different people off from doing this type of work.

 

Parcel packer picker

 

 

A company called Smart has implemented a new system that can pick and pack items in a warehouse setting, it can arrange  containers with identifying size, and weight,texture of the package.

This will increase employee satisfaction with heavier tasks carried out by the robot system and the employee contributing to the tasks, the onboard computer can adapt and make efficient improvements in use and time seven days a week in full operation.It is a welcomed addition to warehouse employees with it making this type of work safer, and giving a business a more rapid pace of work without the past disadvantages of warehouse work.

 

 

Mobile phone payment

 

 

Mobile phones are much more commonly used now to pay for groceries at supermarkets. This has been used in the United States at Walmart and Target stores, while this has been mainly as a replacement to using a card payment.

The smart phones technology can enable to use the camera to scan the item and walk out, without having to queue for service.

 

In the United kingdom, this only recently has been trialed by Marks & Spencer's supermarket in 2019. As well that same year, a Sainsbury’s store opened it’s first only cell phone payment  shop in London. It has had mixed responses with many customers opting to pay using a checkout, the store in particular had no checkouts, only for designated for staff use for refunds.

 

The technology is new, and controversial but certainly radical.

 

 

Delivery automation robot

Shop on wheels

 

The automated innovator of the Robomart program has partnered with another company a los Angeles based business venture that opened in 2021, it will expand the use of its delivery service for customers to order an ice cream, by using the app on a phone. The on wheels ice cream fridges will aim to get to the customer’s location within minutes, once it has arrived, the door of the vehicle can be opened by the robomart app, purchases are done automatically, there is no need for any coins or card to for any transactions.

 

 

An already established robot delivery service has expanded its locations in parts of the Uk, originally in 2018, in England, and now in 2022 have been contracted with a supermarket, these box shaped, six wheeled units have a small flag attached to them, and are being used by supermarkets for online delivery. These robots use sensors and AI to navigate crossing the road and navigating footpaths. They use the same amount of energy used to power a kettle, so they are more efficient than having a driver deliver in a vehicle or moped. In Milton Keynes in England as these robots take off for simple delivery of chocolate to a side order of fries, what happens to the delivery driver who took on this role before, there is no mention of the employee who has lost out on delivering, even a out sourced delivery driver wouldn’t be needed for local deliveries with these robots taking their place. There has been one vocal critic suggesting that those small delivery robots just take up the pavement, while that is quite true, and if expanded may prove to be far too overcrowding blocking people who have a disability. In the end a change like this will cause a loss in exchange for a cleaner delivery service, less emissions from mopeds while making the drivers who would be doing the delivery out of employment for this particular type of delivery, there is always UPS or DHL, but eventually there are only so many they will take on. Words for thought.

 

Industrial robots

 

The report put forward by the international federation of robotics, the USA was third in robot installations of over thirty five thousand model units installed two years ago(2020) in Europe this was over sixty thousand units, with Asian countries totaling over 250,000 thousand. The US numbers show an increasing trend due to the staff shortages that are still ongoing. Addressing has its many complexities. Its number one dilemma, is the staff numbers for farm picking is still very low, many visas for workers has been granted over the many years now to make up for the loss. Over the atlantic in the United Kingdom, only has over two thousand industrial units used by business every year. Last year this labor shortage was more apparent due to the virus restrictions and loss of over sea workers, in farms, so more robots are being used In this sector than previously.

 

Burgers anyone?

The service sector is where the vast majority of people are in employed in, in the areas of Automatic transfer machines(ATM) and self service checkouts, new forms of service sector automation is likely in this decade and into the next. This putting millions of low wage earns at risk.

 

 A startup called Momentum machines Inc, based in San Francisco, had setout with the aim to automate a burger production line. While a fast food worker prepares the food, Momentum machine’s can shape the burgers from fresh meat, and then grills them. It has the ability to add just the correct amount of char while still retaining the juices.

 

The machine which can make up to three hundred per hour. The buns are also toasted, fresh slices of onions, lettuce, and pickles only after the order has been placed.

 

The burgers are moved by a conveyer belt. The founder of the company plainly stated the goal of the company wasn’t to make the food production efficient, but remove staff entirely from the production line. Momentum estimated that a typical fast food outlet spends $135,000 on wages every year. The total labor costs is nine billion annually.

 

Algorithms

 

The impact of automation is clear, the stock market may have high gains, an upward trajectory as seen in years gone by. Wall street banks have made layoffs that  have gone into the thousands due to software making their roles redundant.Twenty years ago, wall street had under 200,000, above 160,000 employees in the financial sector. That now stands at under 100,000. In spite of continued gains, efficiency of computers has taken away more of what was, and left a trail of unemployment in its wake. David Ferrucci who is a computer scientist worked for IBM, left to work for a hedge fund at wall street. His goal was to use artificial intelligence  to gain a competitive edge for the company.

 

Retail and online commerce

The next major change that will take place in the years ahead, is the  use of automation and robotics in shops. The same innovations that have enabled manufacturing robots to advance the frontier or physical dexterity, and visual recognition will allow retail automation to move from present warehouses into the shops, supermarkets to do shelf filling tasks. This sector has already been affected by this change by online access to movies. Companies such as Borders or famously known Block Busters, have been decimated due to companies like Amazon offering cheap movies. Online retail in theory should not remove employment, but would change them from their traditional position to warehouse and distribution centre's used by these companies such as Amazon. How ever the reality of moving these roles to such locations, they then become target to being automated. One such example has been a company in Japan in the summer of 2022, a shelf filling robot that uses AI to place items into fridges at three hundred stores, FamilyMart business.

Kiva systems

Amazon purchased a robotic company called Kiva. Kiva resembles hockey pucks, are designed to move materials within a warehouse. Instead of using employees to have a look for them, Kiva robot travels under a entire pallet and moves it directly to the worker’s packing order location. The robots navigate using a grid laid out by a bar code that are attached to the floor, this is all done autonomously. Major retail outlets have used this technology, which included Toy’s R us, as well Staples. When Amazon bought this technology, a year after, it had in use, more than 1,000 of these robots, only then by expanding this to the warehouses. The Kroger company is one of the largest in the US, has also tried automated distribution centre's, its system is capable of receiving pallets with many quantities of just one single item, from any vendor. It then disassembles them and creates new pallets containing different items that are ready to deliver to supermarkets. These automated warehouses completely removed the need for employees to do the work, except for loading and unloading on the trucks.

Retail sector in a state of change

Redbox, a film rental company has 45,000 movie rental kiosks. These are based in the US and Canada, they are located at shops and major retail outlets. They on average rent three million films a day. One particular outlet in Chicago has only seven employees, the machines are stocked by an automated system. The most work intensive is changing the translucent movie adverts on the kiosk machines. This take the machine only two minutes to do on its own. The staff can work In the warehouse where the films are stored until slotted for the machine to store. While the rest of the functions of Red box are done remotely from the employee’s home. They use the internet to monitor the service running an in-house website. Remote management is the key to running Red box effectively, they are designed so if one machine jams, a fault ticket is sent out, an work can simply login to the system, and trigger the system to dislodge the jamming in the machine. Now that’s pretty radical for such a small business that takes little floor space. The now defunct block buster store chains employed that amount of staff that Red box does, and that is only for one location over a number of miles. Redbox also rented out computer games for the gaming systems of Xbox one, Playstation 4 and switch, Redbox stopped renting them out in 2019 as a way of focusing exclusively on movies.

 

Drinks serving robot

 

The German company called Kuka, an iconic brand has manufactured a robot that can operate within a elaborate bar, which works by a customer ordering a drink using a phone. It requires an app, so a customer just needs to create an account to use it. The robot then proceeds to have a glass in its support, and selects the desired drink ordered from a dispenser. All this requires no operation or prepared by a staff member. This one example shows how an automated system has moved into the drinks business. In South Korea, a company called KT has innovated a robot service system, that delivers a customer’s order to their table with no staff interaction. A customer simply uses a touch screen on a robot server to place an order. 

 

The restaurant No Brand burger as well as Chain mad for garlic has partnered with KT’s artificial intelligence business division to implement this new technology. The orders that are sent via the robot server, are in the kitchen where a machine cooks the burgers automatically. The only role that any staff have, is add toppings to the food, the food is simply placed on the robot server, where its sent off to a table. The server can deliver up to four tables in total. The robots use a three dimensional mapping technology to navigate around the restaurant. So it does avoid obstacles, people or other tables.

 

Pudu robot trolley like server trialed by The Big table company at Bella Italia resturant

 

As the shortage of employees in the restaurant industry continues, in the UK, in Cumbria county in the north west of England, the chain Bella Italia have decided to trial the use of an automated robot food carrying server, which simply takes a customer’s order to their table. Bella Italia is owned by the Big table group company. The company manages more one hundred and fifty restaurants, so far it has chosen to trial the robot servers in one outlet. The Chinese made robot which has been distributed by Spark, the Chinese company pudu robots are currently used in twenty business, and sixty in use so far.

 

 

 

Robot Sign road marker

 

The robot sign maker manufactured by WJ robotics has only recently changed how road signs are now painted on roads, where previously would take road workers hours to complete. The robot works by using GNSS for navigation, it is precise and can mark out center lines, and car park bays, using a storage usb disk can mark out any other shape such as lettering, arrows, numbers, arrows and even logos. The current methods of sign making for roads has not changed since its inception, it is a slow and a lot of hard work on the body. The process involves, calculating where the road markings should be, then walking the route with a measuring wheel and marking with aerosol paint. This has safety and health complications potential back injuries from paint spraying for hours and also using a hazardous substance to so, and lastly not forgetting poor weather conditions. The robot does all of this with speed and accuracy, there are no complaints with this new technology. A few examples of the WJ's work and time saving tasks, it has pained up to eight miles of one motorway in only four hours. This would of taken a few workers about a week and a half to complete. While this technology is certainly impressive, it won't be long until other tasks in civil engineering, road maintenance and the construction sector to remove the occupations that previously have been around for decades.

 

Experimental robots

 

The Australian centre for field robotics at the university of Sydney has focused for several years of employing agricultural robots. As so close to Asia, the country hopes to make it the main supplier of food for the increasing population in the region. The project envisions robots that would continuously take samples of soil from around individual plants and inject a precise amount of fertilizer. This new technology could reduce the amount of chemicals by more than fifty percent, as well as toxicity that often ends up in rivers. As land often has to support more people than it originally would support, as the world’s population increases year after year, arable land will be used more often using technology as described much more efficiently than people labor. As well in countries where ecosystems have been damaged.

 

Harvest Automation, based in Boston. Originally focused to automate productions in greenhouses, the company estimates that manual labor makes up thirty percent of the cost of the work load. In the future the company thinks that robots could do up to forty percent of the labor now required in parts of North America as well Europe.

 

Picking cauli flower this season? Think again.

 

Field robotics teamed up with a French company called Bonduelle. The robot company was the first to create the raspberry picking robot, has now  began efforts to expand further with a new picking robot that can pick cauli flower. This new innovation can grip, cut neatly a cauli flower head. The robot  works by three dimensional cameras, and sensors. It uses machine learning, an artificial intelligence system. California state has machines that shake almond trees, another machine takes the almonds that are on the ground. California’s pickers have moved to this due to nuts because they still require laborers rather than using a machine. How ever this also brings up the reoccurring problem of former land laborers having to move to a city to look for new employment, only then to see the full scale of other areas affected by automation.

 

In San Diego, a company has been developing a machine to pick oranges. The robot’s computer will create a three dimensional image of a tree, store each orange’s location. Then the robotic arm’s will begin rapidly picking them.

 

Raspberry anyone?

At the university of Plymouth, a company (Fieldwork Robotics) setup there has successfully built a robot picking system machine that has been replacing worker shortages during one shift where there fewer workers. The machine was first trialed in 2019, at the time, only one machine which would take a minute to pick one raspberry.

 

Farming today

 

Farming was the main form of employment, and sustenance, for many centuries.  The first sector to change because of machinery was this one. While it has remained labor intensive due to the nature of this type of work.  Other areas of it have also remained  the same, with vegetables grown they require high perception and handling with care. Fruits and vegetables can easily be damaged and are selected on the softness and colour of them. For example berry picking is still done using a vehicle with sorters who ride on the back, almost like a small dump truck. The driver drives five miles per hour and the vehicle has a grab mechanism that shakes the berries off the branches. For a robot to take over this role in some independent way, lighting of the area and size of the vegetables would prove difficult to replace a laborer.

 

OECD countries

 

Researchers at the university of Oxford at Martin School have carried out an in-depth study over seven hundred occupations and concluded that almost fifty percent of could be automated by machines. In the UK, a report by the parliament has estimated one third of job occupations in the UK will be automated with the next two decades. Many roles have been off shored to other countries not in the OECD, this also creates less employment as automation and removal of workers in one country for another.

 

Pandemic and automation

 

At the beginning of this decade, the world was faced with a pandemic which has now led to the closure of many businesses, and people losing employment in order to keep infections down.

As a result of this change, many brick and mortar businesses where possible began selling online as a primary way of making transactions. This new change will likely leave a permanent change for many businesses, small and medium sized ones as many have tried to move online. The question now is what change will this have on occupations that can be reformed, due to the effects of the pandemic, an opportunity to make money while adjusting to a newer way of people in society consuming, buying products and brands that were done more conventionally prior to the virus. in 2021, Domino’s Pizza has now introduced automated delivery for customers to place an order on their smart phone and within a specified time, their order is delivered using automated storage vehicles about the size of a smart car that keep the food secure and hot until delivered to the street outside of the customers home.

 

 

Amazon fresh shop

 

The tech giant has now opened  a self service check out shop called ‘Amazon fresh’ in the United Kingdom, its first shop in London. The shop sells products made by other manufacturers as well its own brands. The concept works by a customer walking and scanning their phone at the entrance. The shops cameras track the movement of everybody, what items they are picking up and the ones that customers take and place in a bag. The customer can leave with the transactions having been automatically billed to the Amazon account. Due to new advancement in the sensor and camera technology, the cameras are able to distinguish between lets say a pack of cards, and a magazine. It is all networked together using deep learning  artificial intelligence software. The shop does have a customer service kiosk for returns of products. Amazon has offered to sell the technology that is being used to other businesses in the retail sector, so this new way of purchasing items by only using a phone to scan and be monitored by the internal surveillance is a game changer for shopping. There are of course privacy concerns, Amazon has noted that customers data is collected of only the items purchased with their account for up to one month. Another shop is now due to open in London in the months ahead.

Mobile robot stock holder

 

A startup company called  Suitee Cobotics founded by Pierre Legendre and Benjamin Loize, two engineers from france, who previously worked at an engineering company. Went ahead and created an innovation robot to assist stock employees move and take away stock from one area to another. The robot works by automation using two dimensional Lidar sensors, and safety scanners, it is then guided by a layout of the supermarket to move from one area to another with any employee input. The robot stock assistant can avoid any people walking nearby, move in and around as well as between stationary obstacles. Lift pallets, boxes, and even calculate a new route if a path is blocked. It is also capable of following and accompanying an employee. The robot also has a person assist mode, this is where this differs greatly from other concepts, it can lift items for the employee, so the hard work is removed from the employee reducing any injuries.

 

Boston dynamics

 

Is a company that leads the way globally in building cutting edge robots that can meet the most strenuous of challenges. Its core goal is to lead in mobility, dexterity and in difficult to reach locations. They currently have four robots, one called pick which is designed to assist in a warehouse. One robot called stretch is designed to work in a warehouse moving boxes, it is unique in that it can navigate very enclosed spaces and adapts to the diameter of the building, it removes the need for a fixed automation infrastructure. It has a custom designed light weight arm and a smart gripper, with an advanced sensing and controls that can handle a large variety of shrink wrapped and boxed cases. Prior to this advancement, warehouse managers have not wanted to invest heavily in an automated robot system due one having to be designed from the ground up, where as this product can fit into any warehouse at a minimum cost, which is a game changer for the company, as well as the removal of employees from the company due to this fundamental change.

 

Automated mobile stock mover

 

Automated robot delivery systems while not new, having been around for the past twenty years, have now a new improvement. While these delivery robots often malfunctioned due to a magnetic strip becoming worn out. With the new mobile phones available, a program can easily repair this problem. Requiring, only to program the route of the robot, without any technical support from another company. The forklift shortage has made these alternatives a better deal for your money. Making 2022 the year that they appear to make more business sense than previously as seen as an option to not having actual driver employees to move around the stock.

 

NHS Scotland Glasgow medicine centre

The national health service in the UK has one of its main medicine centers in Glasgow. This one particular distribution hub processes anywhere from fifteen thousand to twenty thousand medicine prescriptions a day in boxes to wards in the city. The filing system works by a worker simply carrying the medicines in their boxes onto a conveyor belt. A mechanical arm simply attaches the box to it, and then a laser scans the box, looking for a ‘QR’ code with which details that are recorded such as the dimensions of the box, the description of the item, and the expiry date. The boxes are then dropped onto another conveyor belt, and it then is moved to storage. Then a robot arm in the storage area, with which there are eight in total, moves the medicine onto shelves. When an order is made from a hospital ward, the robot seeks the correct one and then sends them into a order processed section and then they are packed into boxes to then be delivered to their wards. While this technology isn’t new, the use of it because of the pandemic caused staff shortages, it has made the order system much more efficient and giving staff the chance to be more helpful in other areas of the health service. Another example of where employee work can be automated.

The closure of physical shop outlets

 

As the pandemic has caused major disruption to the retail sector due to the social distancing rules, many businesses are looking at ways that they can possibly close their shops to expand them into new business operations, two examples Zara and Massimo Dutti has announced that it will intend to close more than one thousand stores over the next couple of years. Starbucks has decided to close up to four hundred of its cafes in North America, over the next year as it begins its new pickup concept shop. Now many shops have decided to close existing ones that aren’t making a return on profits, by turning them into production points, where typically staff at a warehouse would do all the sorting, and arranging of stock, for online purchases. This now means that these existing shops can handle more of the online side of the business, while eroding the traditional brick and mortar model that was common place before the virus. It will also lead to automating these order centers even after the passing of the virus threat. The cost savings from these changes will be beneficial, but no doubt not so much for some employees who are at the end of the staff chain impacted by automated processes having been implemented. The Nike sports shop has contacted with a company in Japan to provide picking robots to carry items ordered to the workers, reducing cost and making efficient gains.

 

Harvesting Lettuce

The virus has caused continuous shortages in workers for crop cultivation. A couple of research groups are taking to the challenge of to automate the process of picking lettuce. These groups are funded by UK expert groups, alongside two producers of salad. PDM produce being one of them, and G fresh.