Inside Unmanned Systems

DEC 2017 - JAN 2018

Inside Unmanned Systems provides actionable business intelligence to decision-makers and influencers operating within the global UAS community. Features include analysis of key technologies, policy/regulatory developments and new product design.

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ENGINEERING. PRACTICE. POLICY. 57 unmanned systems inside December 2017/January 2018 HOW EMPLOYEES REACT The team at the Schnuck Markets grocery stores working with the Simbe Robotics system have been very positive about the experience, and see its value, said Dave Steck, Schnuck Markets vice president of information technology infrastructure and application development. They understand the robot isn't there to replace them. Rather, it's designed to help make them more efficient and to take on a job they really don't want to do anyway, giving them more time to do what they love most—help customers. "You always have people who think this is going to replace jobs," he said. "This is a job obviously not being done today. The robot isn't capable of stocking the shelves, it's just alerting employees to a missed stock (item). It takes people to order the item, to get the item in and out of the warehouse, to receive the item at the store and to then stock it at the store. It actually generates hours in the store. You have more items on the shelves and you have to have somebody there to stock them." HOW CUSTOMERS REACT Most customers who walk into BevMo! are fascinated by the technology, Graham said. They enjoy engaging with the system, no matter their age. "It's fun to watch them interact," he said. "I think we're going to amp it up a bit and have the robot tell a few jokes. It can be entertainment too. Finding ways to engage the customer is really what I think is important. That builds brand value and makes us unique." While most operations aren't there yet, it's cer- tainly where the bigger warehouses are headed. Drones are also becoming part of inventory management in large warehouses, with com- panies like PINC Solutions developing tech- nologies that make it easier and safer to keep track of products no matter how high they're stored. The drone, PINC Air, can f ly over large areas, both indoors and outdoors, to provide accurate inventory reconciliation. Depending on the warehouse's labeling sys- tem (they're all different), the PINC system uses RFID (Radio-frequency identification) and OCR (optical character recognition) to identify inventory, CEO Matt Yearling said. With RFID, electromagnetic fields automati- cally identify and track tags attached to ob- jects, while OCR uses computer vision to read bar codes or other labeling systems to deter- mine what an item is. When f lying inside, the UAS relies on simul- taneous location and mapping (SLAM) to nav- igate, Yearling said. Like a person, it has depth perception and stereo vision. Using this tech- nology, it understands how to navigate around the environment because it understands what the environment looks like. The sophisticated software makes the UAS capable of 3-D map- ping, navigation, inventory identification and location accuracy. The system is also able to safely f ly in tight spaces and narrow aisles, which are common in most large warehouses, Yearling said. Right now batteries are the system's main power source, but PINC is also f lying hydrogen fuel cells on their drones and testing newer battery types for enhanced longevity. When a company decides to implement the system, PINC goes to the facility to get a better understanding of how they handle their inven- tory and the business problem they're trying to solve, Yearling said. They then map out the en- vironment, label the merchandise, train optics if necessary and take video associated with the environment. Once implemented, the system is typi- cally f lown during quiet time when there aren't many workers in the facility, Yearling said. There are people there to monitor the drone's progress, however, and to make sure it's safely doing what it's expected to do. Using the systems, companies can increase inventory accuracy in their warehouse to close to 99 percent, Yearling said, which can save millions of dollars, even more if they have multiple warehouses (and many do). "You have people moving stuff in ware- houses all the time and things get lost, mis- placed and stolen," Yearling said. "Accuracy is important to deliver on customer com- mitments. The last thing you want is to have sold something and not deliver on the com- mitment. The concept of inventory shrink- " AT THE END OF THE DAY, IF WE PROVIDE BETTER SERVICE IT MIGHT LEAD TO ONE MORE BOTTLE IN THE BASKET." Bob Graham, senior vice president and CIO, BevMo!

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