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Future robots will see

General trends

Distribution Systems Manager Derek Rickard is based in Grimsby, Canada and works mainly on Layer Picking and Multipick products. His work takes him regularly to different cities and countries. In April Rickard gave a speech in the WERC annual conference in Chicago and became inspired by the future of robotics industry.

The Niagara Falls

Often customers visit our facility and sometimes they spend the night. Our typical evening of dinner and entertainment is to take them to view the Niagara Falls. I must have been there more than 50 times over the years, but I still enjoy it and our customers absolutely love the experience. It is only 50 kilometers from our facility. My favorite restaurant is the Fallsview Keg, a fantastic steakhouse with an incredible view of the falls.


Another popular activity has been to take customers to a reference site in Vancouver. Vancouver is one of the most beautiful cities in the world and a city most Americans or Europeans have never been to. In the summer Grouse Mountain is a must-see! Only minutes away from downtown Vancouver, you can take the gondola up to the top of the ski hill. Also, the suspension bridge in Lynn Canyon is worth a visit. The 100-year-old bridge connects hiking trails on each side of a canyon and is 50 meters high.


Once or twice a year we have a North American customer interested in doing a site visit to see some Multipick references. Our typical itinerary is to take them to Finland – first to see Tuko in the Helsinki area, Valio Dairy in Riihimäki, then Itella in Tampere and finally Cimcorp HQ in Pori. This summer I was with customers in Finland during the summer solstice in June. It was amazing to see the sun still high in the sky after 10pm!


I was asked to give a speech for the WERC annual conference in April. My topic was “How Robotics will change your operations by 2020” – basically I talked about the future of robots in the warehouse. The focus of the presentation was more far-reaching than what I usually spend my time on, so it forced me to take a broader look at the industry. In doing this I learned a lot about the industry as a whole.

I was most interested in where the industry is heading with ”Vision Systems”. For instance, there’s a lot of work being done in the robotics industry right now using new types of sensing technology such as the Microsoft Kinect sensor. Developers are tapping into the inherent abilities of the gaming device and using them for industrial applications.

The most fascinating part for me is that Microsoft is encouraging and even facilitating an open source environment so developers can share and build on each others work. This is contrary to how R&D is typically done, with companies going to great lengths to protect their intellectual property. If the industry truly embraces this method, the rate at which some applications are developed could be astronomical.

As long as robotics has been around, basic sensor technology has been relied on to tell the robot when it can travel blindly to a target or a fixed coordinate. With new vision and sensing technology, robots will have the ability to ”see” the objects they need to interact with and will have the ability to react to inconsistencies, just like a human would.

It will be exciting when this is more thoroughly proven for the industrial environment. It will result in more complex solutions that are more flexible and adaptable, in faster startup times and in lower costs.


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