Zebra Technologies Corp. today announced three new mobile robots and a new software package for order or batch picking. Lincolnshire, Ill.-based Zebra, which recently acquired Fetch Robotics Inc., said the new offerings will help it automate warehouse workflows.
The new FlexShelf, FlexShelf Guide, and RollerTop Guide autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), along with the FetchCore software, are the first products released since the acquisition.
Melonee Wise, founder and former CEO of Fetch Robotics and vice president of robotics automation at Zebra, replied to the following questions from Robotics 24/7 about the new offerings.
Given that Zebra acquired Fetch in July, how long were these new products in the works?
Wise: These products have been in development for a year, but a lot of the need-finding and investigation goes back a couple of years.
Over the past couple of years, we have received increasing requests from customers for a fulfillment solution so that they can have one robotics solution instead of many. Fetch is able to offer that diversity of platform to the customer.
Was Fetch interested in e-commerce order fulfillment and goods-to-person picking before the COVID-19 pandemic? What did you see that was lacking in other offerings?
Wise: Fetch originally started with a manufacturing focus. The product wasn’t focused on e-commerce and fulfillment. Before the pandemic, we were receiving more pressure to move in that direction and as we expanded from manufacturing into fulfillment and logistics operations.
In designing our new fulfillment solution, we focused on configurability, payload volume, and weight capacity. Fetch outhauls other platforms 80 kg versus 18 kg [176.3 to 39.6 lb.].
We also focused on top speed of the platform, building robots that can drive significantly faster while operating more safely than other solutions. Looking at fulfillment centers or warehouses, travel represents 50% of time of picking, how fast the robot can move in a facility matters. Fetch AMRs travel at 1.75 meters per second [3.9 mph], versus 1.1 meters per second [2.2 mph] for our competitors. That’s a big advantage for us.
Why did Fetch and Zebra decide to build these additions to its Freight100 AMRs rather than work with integrators or accessory partners?
Wise: The solution is not just the accessories; it’s the whole robot and software stack, it’s the navigation capabilities, the enhanced safety capabilities like the forklift-detection algorithm and integration capabilities with pick and put-to-light systems. This would be difficult to do with a third-party integrator.
It possible to describe FlexShelf, FlexShelf Guide, and Roller Top Guide in a little more detail? What's unique about each?
Wise: There are many new and unique features. The new Fetch AMRs offer a lot of new visual indicators for pick and put-to-light, aisle pick location light, and pick priority indicators.
They also operate using new social navigation behaviors for robot-to-robot, robot-to-forklift, and robot-to-people interactions. Seeing these robots in action is like watching a highly coordinated transit system, where robots follow the rules of the road and alert people to their whereabouts.
In comparison with the existing FetchCore, how much does the fulfillment package add? Does it cost extra?
Wise: There is no extra charge for the fulfillment software package. It is a part of FetchCore.