MIT Technology Review
Will Douglas Heaven
In a warehouse in Secaucus, New Jersey, a handful of people stand around the base of a white box as big as a house. Every few seconds a plastic bin emerges from an opening in its sleek walls. Someone reaches in and grabs an item of lingerie or swimwear, and then the bin is gone again—whisked back inside the box to be restacked among 33,000 others arranged in row upon row of floor-to-ceiling towers.
On top of the box, 73 robots crisscross the grid like giant bees tending a honeycomb. Working together, they move the bins around nonstop, accessing specific items and delivering them to the people on the outside. On a busy day, these robots churn through 20,000 online orders, 80% of which are placed via smartphones.
A growing number of retailers are turning to this kind of automation to out-compete their rivals. Robots keep costs down and make order fulfillment quicker and more accurate. Now, given a series of lockdowns that could go on for months or even years, this kind of small-scale automation could be key if retailers are to survive. This is true not only for smaller firms looking to keep up but also for big, established players, who are seeing their business model shift by the week. The way we shop is changing: the future of retail automation is smaller, closer to home, and more flexible. (Full Article)