Locus Robotics has unveiled its new Locus Robotics Advanced Navigation (LRAN) software, designed to improve movement and coordination of multiple robots in fulfillment center settings.
The announcement came this week at the ProMat 2017 Show in Chicago, where Locus demonstrated the software working with its LocusBots. "Until now, it was challenging to have multiple robots operate in a coordinated fashion in a warehouse environment," said Rick Faulk, CEO of Locus Robotics. "With [LRAN], we can support large numbers of robots operating seamlessly and collaboratively alongside workers in a warehouse."
Locus Robotics said it has eight customer deployments of LRAN underway in North America, with the software being introduced to those locations via the startup's automatic cloud distribution system. Locus said its retail and third-party logistics customers have already noted immediate improvements in navigational accuracy and pick performance rates.
To demonstrate the effectiveness of the software, Locus essentially built a realistic mini-warehouse environment on the show floor at ProMat, and let visitors to its booth watch up-close as the robots moved around them. That sounds like an ideal demonstration of how robots would move through actual fulfillment centers where, at least for now, they need to work very much in concert and in close quarters with human employees.
Retailers and third-party logistics providers that are increasingly bringing robots into their warehouses stand to greatly benefit for better robot navigation software. We're getting to the point where a robot is no longer be "the new guy" looking to fit in among other warehouse employees and tasks. Some companies likes Hudson's Bay and Amazon have been rapidly expanding their use of robots in these centers, but challenges remain.
"Warehouses are often congested spaces, densely packed with merchandise, transport equipment and personnel," said Mike Johnson, co-founder and president of Locus. "The ability to have many robots moving through the warehouse without impacting traffic flow represents a significant leap forward in warehouse productivity."
Johnson knows the warehouse operator's perspective of how robots impact operations. Before co-founding Locus, he helped run third-party fulfillment centers for online retailers that used Amazon's Kiva robots, according to TechCrunch. When Amazon stopped sell robots to its competitors, he co-founded Locus to develop its own line of robots and software for fulfillment.