Tag Archives: Physical Internet

Future of Distribution: Army of Warehouse Robots [Video]

This video shows a potential method of warehousing that amazed and inspired me. Amazon owned Kiva has developed software that radically redefines warehouse operations. Small robots, just slightly larger than Roomba vacuums, act as carriers to bring storage locations to human pickers. Automated vehicles are nothing new, but the fluid and automated network of how they interact is fascinating.

Take a look below:

You can see more videos and case studies on KIVA’s site.

Although the $1-2 Million price tag is a bit more than most small businesses can invest, the KIVA system shows the direction supply chain technology is headed. Price reductions and further technology advances could one day make these little robot pickers as plentiful as forklifts and pallets.

More than anything, this video inspires creativity and spurs a vision of what operations can look like – smooth and automated while maximizing value added by human employees.

To take the concept a step further, imagine operations beyond picking. As driverless cars become street legal, a similar distribution network could extend outside the warehouse and onto the streets. Trucks could drive all day and night in a network to move product with very little human input. Much as electronic data moves seamlessly through the internet, physical product could move through a physical internet. Instead of trucks loading in California and driving straight to New York, product would move in small routed jumps: California to Nevada, Nevada to Utah, Utah to Colorado, etc. While this seems like a lot of loading and unloading, it actually could be quite easy if everything were in easily transferrable containers. A nationwide logistics network of short trips would allow truckers to stay close to home and move product quicker with less environmental impact. The National Science Foundation, as explained on Wikipedia and the Physical Internet Initiative‘s page, has championed this concept for several years.

It’s exciting to think about how product will get to my house twenty years from now. The KIVA system gives just a hint of what that path of product might be.

What are your thoughts about the KIVA system? Where do you see the world’s supply chain in twenty years?

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