Robots are already a prominent part of our daily lives, especially in the ecommerce world. A number of robotics companies have tried and failed to sell robots to the masses in recent years, but some companies are using robots with significant success.
Robotics-as-a-service has hit the ecommerce industry full force. It’s become a way for robotics companies to introduce their products and also as a solution to a number of high-cost ecommerce concerns, like warehousing and inventory.
How are robots being used today, and what does the future hold for robotics?
There are two current concerns with robots.
The first is the cost. Quality robots call for quality tech and parts, which creates a major upfront investment for robotics companies. Since these firms haven’t yet learned how to commercialize their robots to the general public, they’d be taking a heavy financial risk if their robots don’t sell. They can’t risk investing significant amounts of money in research and technology if they don’t have a market and appropriate sales processes in place.
1. Robotics companies don’t yet have the applicable tech or marketing skills to bring robots to the general public.
The second is robotic capacity. Robots are able to collaborate with humans through artificial intelligence and high-tech mechanisms, but there are still some expensive design flaws that need to be worked out. Most importantly, our current robots usually need a controlled environment in order to work. For example, in-person delivery robots need clear streets with simple traffic patterns. They struggle in more complicated cities with a lot of variables.
2. Robots need straightforward, controlled environments in order to be effective.
The ecommerce solution
With these two concerns, where can robots play a role in our current society?
Back in March 2012, Amazon acquired Kiva Systems. This $775 million deal put a slight dent in Amazon’s profits, but it brought an army of cost-efficient robots to Amazon’s warehouses and distribution centers across the globe. Now, Amazon has at least 100,000 robots in at least 25 fulfillment centers.
Amazon was one of the first companies to implement robotics on a larger scale in their warehousing and inventory processes, but they are certainly not alone. Rakuten Super Logistics is already seeing major returns on their robots. Zara and Bonobos are using Quiet Logistics robots, with an expectation to increase warehouse productivity by 800%. Lowe’s offers an Oshbot, which uses facial-recognition to help you find things in their store. Robots are quickly entering the operational side of the ecommerce world in large corporations and small retailers alike.
And this isn’t just great for ecommerce businesses. The role in warehouses is great for the robotics industry as well, as a means of meeting the two aforementioned concerns.
First, large retailers are huge clients with deep pockets ready to pay for tech advancements. Because there is so much competition in retail, companies are being forced to implement new and innovative technologies around every corner. They’re willing to spend money on robots that will make their processes more efficient and consumer friendly.
This puts some money in the hands of the robotics companies, so they can have more funds available to research and commercialize moving forward.
Second, warehouses are highly controlled environments. They’re usually just made up of concrete flooring and shelving units. This makes it simple for robots to get accustomed to their surroundings so they can work at optimal speed. This kind of ease of controlled efficiency actually allows the robots to be more fruitful than those machines with more complex uses (which haven’t yet been perfected).
Together, this allows robot companies to sell their product, make money, and create the most efficient robots. This helps make retailers more streamlined and competitive, while providing robotics companies with more funds to grow their technology and meet market demands.
The role of robots
What are robots actually doing for ecommerce companies?
Robots have become the hands and transporters of the warehouse. With the use of artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things, robots can link up to a system to swiftly navigate through the shelves and locate products. They can then lift heavy boxes, bring them to a different part of the warehouse, scan them, label them, and keep inventory.
Robots not only do the physical labor, but they can also help keep digital records in a single aggregated spot. This creates enhanced productivity and organization with lower risk of loss. The Internet of Things allows the different robots to communicate with one another to store, analyze, and predict data.
This is especially important as consumer demand is increasing. More and more people are shopping online and expecting fast, effective delivery. Same-day shipping offerings are especially changing the way warehouses have to operate. Robots can do more and at a faster rate than human workers, which can help meet the consumers’ influx of orders and desire for quicker service.
That’s why Amazon implemented robots. If FBA wants to offer two-day to same-day shipping options, they need to have the manpower (or robot-power) to back it up. This is especially important for major sales, like Amazon Prime Day, where they need highly streamlined picking, packing, and shipping processes.
Robots and the human worker
What about the question that’s on everyone’s mind—are robots stealing jobs from Americans?
No, robots aren’t stealing jobs. In fact, there aren’t as many warehouse workers to begin with. Factory jobs aren’t as common. So, retailers are being forced to find technology to fill their hiring gaps. Robots are coming in to close the employment gap and bring more necessary hands on deck.
Plus, consumer demand is increasing. This means that there will innately be more jobs needed in the logistics portion of ecommerce. This is especially true for small businesses that want to employ local folks in their warehouses—but also need to invest in robots to help their business grow.
Robots and humans have already learned how to work side by side. The robots are there to make the human’s job easier. They’ll do the heavy lifting and the labeling, so humans can focus on quality checks.
This improves the worker experience, reduces the likelihood of injury, increases efficiency and speed, and ensures the delivery of a higher-quality product.
The future of robots
Robots are becoming more than just new-fangled toys. They’re infiltrating the ecommerce industry by revolutionizing the way logistics and operations are handled.
But robots-as-a-service isn’t going to stop at warehousing. Delivery robots are growing increasingly efficient. Housekeeping robots are making up hotel rooms faster for quicker check-ins and more amenity offerings. Customer service chatbots and human resources AI are putting robots in direct communication with consumers and employees. In fact, artificial intelligence is even one of the strongest marketing methods for 2018.
While they’re not the crime-fighting, human-like robots we see in movies, our robots today are helping to fill jobs, improve business processes, and better deliver to the customer. They’re growing increasingly mainstream for businesses and consumers alike.
Robots are here to make our lives easier and our businesses stronger. As a company that promotes the strong growth of small to medium sized businesses, Seller’s Choice is proud to be on the road towards robotics-as-a-service. We believe in the future of the machine in tandem with the intelligence of the human.
Where do you see robots heading in the next decade?