After going into stealth mode in late 2021, IAM Robotics is back with a new system aimed at increasing order-fulfillment productivity in warehouses and manufacturing facilities. The Pittsburgh-based company said its Meet Me system was designed to facilitate collaboration between workers and robots completing person-to-good tasks.
The Meet Me system covers multiple steps. Using a wearable device attached to their wrists, workers are directed where to go in a facility and what items to pick.
From there, a Lumabot autonomous mobile robot (AMR) meets the worker at the pick location; IAM Robotics' Pyxis workflow management software tells the associate how many items to place in a bin.
The worker then confirms the order using the Lumabot's patent-pending pick-to-light shelving feature. The Lumabot then meets the worker at the next pick destination. Once all items are picked, the robot heads out to order packing and shipping, the company said.
New system targets pre-existing facilities
IAM Robotics noted that its new system uses a priority-level structure to determine where to send both robots and people.
In an interview with Robotics 24/7, Jay Link, chief commercial officer at IAM Robotics, said the company decided to pivot away from mobile manipulation and previous AMRs to focus on technology that could more easily be adopted in brownfield facilities. The company decided to make that change shortly after Lance VandenBrook, who previously worked at Kiva Systems, was brought on as CEO in May 2021.
“We thought, 'How do we leverage our technology and create a solution that goes into the space without making people have to build around us?' We want them to be able to get up and go and be very fluid, so person-to-goods was the right solution,” Link said.
IAM Robotics said it designed its new system to consider human workers and robots as separate agents. Source: IAM Robotics
Meet Me gives workers more flexibility
With Meet Me, IAM Robotics has combined the flexibility of the swarm model with some linear control benefits of the follow-me model, claimed Link.
He noted that the company was deliberate about creating a software platform that treats humans and robots as separate agents working in their own directed workflows. Unlike AMR systems where the human must follow the robot to complete picks, IAM designed Meet Me to give the worker more agency, he said, highlighting that the worker has an attached tablet on their wrist and does not rely on one placed on the robot.
Link said the Lumabot is capable of handling payloads of up to 500 lb. (226 kg), which opens the markets in which it can be used beyond warehouses. He mentioned factories that need to move loads greater than 200 lb. (90 kg). The AMR also has shelving that's large enough to carry shoes or similar-sized objects, Link added.
The Meet Me system is currently being piloted in some live production environments, according to IAM Robotics. Link couldn't share the names of the companies participating but said a big-box retailer and a third-party logistics provider (3PL) are among the companies evaluating the technology.
Workers are directed where to go and what items to pick using a device attached to their wrist. Source: IAM Robotics
IAM Robotics shares perspective on 6 River Systems sale
The news of IAM Robotics' new order-fulfillment system comes just weeks after Shopify announced that it was selling 6 River Systems (6RS) to Ocado. Sources told Robotics 24/7 that Shopify had laid off as much as 85% of 6 River Systems' staff before selling it.
Link said that news has probably left some of 6 River Systems' customers wondering what will happen next. He compared the transaction to Amazon purchasing Kiva Systems in 2012 and how much of that technology went in house and was no longer available to customers.
“[Customers] are sitting there saying, 'I got my supply chain technology wrapped up in a Shopify/6 River Systems solution, and now this company Ocado owns it,'” he said. “'What are they going to do it. I don't know, and do I want to be held captive to it?'”
In response to the sale of 6 River Systems, IAM Robotics has gotten some increased customer interest, Link said. The company has also spoken with some former 6RS employees. Link said it “will be obvious we will pick up a few.”
He emphasized, however, that the company does not plan to build out its team too quickly and instead will take a slower approach.
CEO aims to 'revolutionize' order fulfillment
In a statement, VandenBrook highlighted the benefits of the new system, noting that the system makes the company “uniquely poised to revolutionize the order fulfillment industry.”
“We are helping to solve a critical piece of the global supply chain puzzle,” he said. “We’re moving onward and upward together, and we’re just getting started.”
Editor's note: Eugene Demaitre contributed to this article.
About the Author
Cesareo Contreras was associate editor at Robotics 24/7. Prior to working at Peerless Media, he was an award-winning reporter at the Metrowest Daily News and Milford Daily News in Massachusetts. Contreras is a graduate of Framingham State University and has a keen interest in the human side of emerging technologies.
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