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Japanese pilot project tests autonomous warehouse-fulfillment center

April 6, 2022

In a modern logistics warehouse, autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) are commonplace as the workhorse robot that finds and retrieves products from the depths of inventory, ready for shipping. Meanwhile, picking robots, capable of identifying products and placing then in another box or bag, are becoming more commonplace as their abilities evolve to handle more challenging tasks.

But what if the tasks of the two robots could be integrated to eliminate human workers from all these arduous and repetitive tasks?

That's the question that Osaro and Konoike Transport are addressing in a new project at the Konoike Institute of Technology Innovation Center (known as KITIC) that showcases Japan’s first prototype of automated warehouse operations, where AMRs will work together with picking robots optimized for warehouse and eCommerce applications that involve large SKU inventories.

The pilot will demonstrate automation of logistics processes by linking inVia Robotics’ AMR and Osaro’s piece-picking robot to provide a smooth path from warehouse inventory to packing and shipping operations.

To make this work, the AMR will locate the shelf in the warehouse where the required items are stored. It will then retrieve the correct inventory storage bin and carry it to the pick-and-place robot station. Finally, the picking robot will pick the item from the inventory storage bin and place it in a different bin, ready for shipment.

The picking robot features Osaro’s advanced artificial intelligence (AI) vision system, which enables the robot to perform advanced pick-and-place operations by recognizing transparent, deformed, reflective and irregularly shaped items—even if they are randomly arranged in the inventory storage bins.

Why it matters

The displacement of traditionally manual tasks by smart robotics is expected to address the global issues of increasing logistics volume and cope with accelerating labor shortages due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The prototype will prove that tasks such as inventory movement and picking items for order fulfillment can be fully automated. Through this pilot, the partners aim to identify issues that arise when multiple robotics automation solutions are interacting and to resolve these issues ahead of the planned operational deployment.

Tadatsugu Konoike, director and senior managing executive officer at Konoike Transport Co., Ltd., said: “We are honored to be the first in Japan to conduct a demonstration prototype of an OSARO picking solution with an AMR. We decided to work with OSARO because we believe that OSARO is superior for use in the rapidly changing logistics field in terms of automatic machine learning, data collection, and accurate picking. Japan is facing a shortage of labor due to the declining birthrate and aging population, but we hope to turn this challenge into an opportunity and develop a new form of workplace at KITIC and introduce it to the world.”

OSARO CEO Derik Pridmore added: “OSARO is excited to partner with Konoike and inVia to demonstrate a unique combination of inVia’s AMR and OSARO’s piece-picking robots. The system we created is an example of a modular, flexible, and brownfield-compatible fulfillment system. Future warehouses will leverage systems like this to scale up for increasing demand from customers without requiring hiring additional manual labor.”

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