As internet commerce matures, consumers are expecting more immediate delivery of goods, but a fleet of drones won't do any good unless the packing warehouses can keep up. The latest effort to help speed up this process comes from Fetch Robotics, which has unveiled Fetch and Freight – a robotic tag team that takes over the boring task of collecting and delivering stock.
Fetch and Freight may sound like an end-of-pier act, but their purpose is to make the job of human shipping workers faster and easier. Designed for the logistics industry, robotic team consist of a mobile base and an advanced manipulator that can act as either a static or mobile unit. The robots use the ROS open-source robot operating system, and include anti-collision systems to help them work in the vicinity of humans.
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The basic purpose of Fetch and Freight is to take over the pick-and-pack and other repetitive warehouse jobs, so workers can concentrate on more complex tasks. In addition, they can carry out autonomous, continuous operations by means of a charging station that the robots can use by themselves to top up their batteries and minimize downtime.
FetchFetch is an advanced mobile manipulator that uses a back-drivable arm with seven degrees of freedom and a modular gripper, which can be switched out and replaced depending on the task. It's set on a telescoping spine that can stretch from a height of 1.1 to 1.5 m (3.5 - 4.9 ft). Together, they can lift about 6 kgs (13 lb). The pan-tilt head holds cameras and a 3D depth sensor, and can seek out and select items from standard shelves. The mobile version is installed on a Freight base.
FreightFreight is the mobile base that works in tandem by following Fetch or a human worker. It can carry about 68 kg (150 lb), and has a 2D laser scanner for navigation. It can be programmed by means of a smartphone app to navigate a particular route, or to follow Fetch or a human worker using wireless signals.
In basic warehouse operations, Fetch and Freight work together with Freight seeking out stock items on shelves, then transferring them to a basket carried by Freight. When the order is complete, Freight heads off to packing, while a second base unit moves in to replace it, so there's no pause in the work.
"Consumers are increasingly acting like impatient toddlers when it comes to delivery; they want their purchases and they want them now," says Rob Coneybeer, Managing Director at Shasta Ventures. "As a result of this trend, commercial order fulfillment is becoming more and more challenging for retailers. A robotic system such as the one from Fetch Robotics can address these issues and ultimately lead to healthier margins, competitive advantage, and satisfied customers."
The robots will go on display at the 2015 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) running May 26 to 30 at the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle.
The video below introduces Fetch.