ATLANTA – There weren’t as many official news announcements on the third day of the MODEX show, but there were still enough items of note in the robotics space, as companies continued to meet with attendees offering new robot solutions in the warehousing and materials handling space. Yes, it is time for another MODEX roundup!
In case you missed them, you can also check out our Day 1 and Day 2 coverage of the event if you’re looking for news around autonomous mobile robots.
ForwardX’s computer-vision fleet
ForwardX was using the MODEX event to showcase its AMRs aimed at warehousing/supply chain and manufacturing environments. The China-based company opened its U.S. headquarters in San Diego in late 2019, offering several different robot designs aimed at providing customized offerings for clients in materials handling, fulfillment and other processes.
The company’s unique offering is a vision-based AMR fleet that utilizes computer vision and sensor fusion for better navigation around a warehouse, compared with other AMR systems that might only utilize vision for obstacle avoidance and lidar just for navigation.
“We have a true sensor fusion solution because not only can we do VSLAM, we can also incorporate other elements of computer vision,” said Nicolas Temple, vice president of Sales Americas at ForwardX. “If you’re in a really messy environment, the field of view is wide for the cameras, and we could identify targets coming through narrow corridors or coming in and out of elevators. If you have a target, you can use computer vision to pick up that target and then know how to move relative to that target. In a really congested or highly dynamic environment, this is an added bonus fo the computer vision.”
Temple said some of the different aspects of the vision technology include semantic segmentation – being able to differentiate between two different objects that look similar; and posture recognition – being able to predict which direction a person is walking – also benefits the robot in being able to avoid running into the people or objects.
The ForwardX products include the X200, an AMR platform with a vertical column that houses the robot’s cameras and a touch screen; the X200 RFID, which adds RFID scanner capabilities and a mobile printer; the X200 Double-Deck, which supports a second deck for additional totes; the X200 Lift, which adds the ability to lift racks of objects; the X500, which looks more like a traditional goods-to-person or manufacturing-style materials handling base; and the X500 Lift, which allows the ability to lift racks or hold pallets. In addition to the hardware, ForwardX offers Fleet Manager software for tracking, congestion control and battery management functions, among other features.
Unlike several companies in the AMR space, ForwardX has a business model where companies buy the systems outright, rather than through a robots-as-a-service (RaaS) or leasing option. Temple said RaaS offerings attract certain types of customers, but that those companies may miss up to 80% of the market.
“You could probably tell from the volumes of the customers doing RaaS versus the customers not doing RAAs, the volumes are probably lower,” said Temple. “That’s because a large portion of the market isn’t ready for that. They don’t have the financial mechanisms to actually justify that as a business. There are some businesses savvy enough to deal with that … but if you look at the manufacturing segment, I don’t think they’re ready for it.”
In addition, Temple said a lot of the RaaS solutions require cloud-based services, and many companies would prefer to keep their data on premise. However, he added that the company could very quickly adopt leasing or RaaS options should customers start demanding those.
More details on ForwardX’s offerings are available here.
Research collaborations at MODEX
Honeywell Robotics showed attendees its robotics loader/unloader system, which it announced at last year’s ProMat conference. The company also gave updates on its Pittsburgh robotics center and said it is collaborating with AI researchers at Carnegie Mellon University’s National Robotics Engineering Center. The company also said it has made strategic investments in robotics companies such as Soft Robotics and Attabotics – at the show it was demonstrating an integrated offering that had picking robots placing items on mobile robots.
Toyota Material Handling North America (TMHNA) awarded funding to two university research proposals in the materials handling space, including one from Cornell University that proposes a dynamic capacitive wireless charging system for autonomous material handling vehicles. Funding through the TMHNA University Research Program will be provided to Professor Khurram Afridi from Cornell, as well as Professor Jorge Dorribo Camba at Purdue University for his proposal on material handling for Industry 4.0 in small and medium enterprises.
The program was created to drive the next generation of technology for supply chain, logistics, and material handling industries. It encourages university professors and researchers to apply their knowledge of engineering and technical fields as a way to collaborate between TMHNA and collegiate research.
“Our University Research Program is reflective of Toyota’s mission to solve challenges creatively,” said Brett Wood, TMHNA President and CEO. “In partnering with leading universities, we seek to foster industry-led innovation by combining our resources and guidance with the fresh and new ideas coming out of academia. Together in the spirit of collaboration, we hope to build a better, safer, more efficient future for the material handling industry.”
* Ware launched a warehouse inventory automation built on the Skydio 2 indoor drone. The Ware offering is designed to address the $1.9 trillion challenge for tracking and counting inventory in warehouses. The system leverages fleets of drones to capture images of every bin location in a facility, giving operators a visual audit history of inventory and alerting them to any issues. In addition, the system can provide a visual dataset of warehouse inventory for the machine learning algorithms. Read more here.
* Avidbots was showing MODEX attendees its new Neo Side Sweeper attachment for its autonomous commercial cleaning robot. The company said the new attachment will enable the Neo robots to clean in hard-to-reach places such as baseboards and corners. It can also collect small items such as screws, nuts, bolts, rocks, stones and loose dirt – depositing the debris inside an internal bin. The company said the attachment is currently being tested in DHL-operated warehouses in North America. Following the testing phase, the attachment will be available for all customers later in 2020, Avidbots said. Read more here.