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Robots are helping to ease ecommerce distribution

More warehouse operators and retailers are supplementing their workforces with AI-informed machines.

January 11, 2019 |

Amazon's fulfillment centers use robots, made by its Amazon Robotics division, that scoot under bins of merchandise to move them to its warehouse workers. Image: Amazon via YouTube 

Machine learning is enabling a new era of warehouse automation, as operators test artificial-intelligence-powered robots to help speed e-commerce orders.

An article posted earlier this week in the Wall Street Journal’s WSJ Pro section examines how logistics providers and retailers are deploying robotics to limit the number of steps their warehouse workers take and to execute more nuanced tasks long thought to be possible only by human hands.

Most warehouses still rely on human labor. But with the need to fill accelerating online orders, operators are looking for new, more efficient ways to manage distribution. Enter robotics: ROBO Global, a research and investment advisor, estimates that annual spending for warehouse and logistics automation, now at $46 billion, could surpass $75 billion by 2022.

Some examples of where the market may be headed, according to WSP Pro:

• XPO Logistics, with 1,529 locations and over 98,000 workers worldwide, is rolling out 5,000 AI-equipped robots that can deliver shelves full of products to workers.

• Rakuten Super Logistics—a division of the Japan-based online retailer Rakuten, with fulfillment centers in eight U.S. cities—is using robots to deliver bins full of products to workers who pick individual items for delivery.

• So-called collaborative robots that work in tandem with humans are also gaining popularity among warehouse operators, especially to manage seasonal workflows. XPO is using these robots to help guide workers through warehouse aisles, lighting up when they reach the next item to pick. Rakuten Super Logistics began using 40 “cobots” at its Las Vegas warehouse before the recent Christmas rush, and found they could handle increases in volume without adding temporary help.

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