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Welcome back to OurView: Apparel & E-Commerce. In this edition we will be looking at a new trend that is shaking up the industry, robotics! From collaborative robots to fully automated solutions and industry leaders to up-and-coming companies, this developing technology shows a lot of promise to improve ecommerce fulfillment. Here is a round-up of big news to come out of the robotics industry recently, and how it relates to our sector.

Sector News

A partnership between Locus Robotics and RightHand Robotics was announced at the end of May. Locus is considered one of the pioneers in autonomous collaborative robots and has seen success with their swarm technology. The Locus cobots have been shown to increase picking productivity by 200-300%, primarily by greatly decreasing a picker’s walk time. Conversely, industry leader RightHand Robotics offers an automated sortation process using a stationary robotic picking arm. May was a big month for RightHand, in addition to the announced Locus partnership they were named one of the top 50 robotics companies by the Robotics Business Review. What does this partnership look like? At the moment, information is limited. However, it will be a cross-platform solution that offers greater automation. This has the potential for ecommerce fulfillment to see increased output at a lower cost. It is an exciting time to be a part of this
industry, and we can’t wait to see what new innovations are around the corner.

New Robot on the Block

Thus far, robotics in e-commerce have primarily focused on picking operations, creating robots that can mimic hand movements to automate picking and sortation. Pickle Robots, a start-up out of MIT, is looking to change this by creating a robot that can mirror bicep motions. According to the founder, Andrew Meyer, a human currently touches a box 10-15 times before it reaches the consumer. Their new robot, aptly named The Dill, seeks to reduce the strenuous task of box stacking. Using Tetris to train their robots, The Dill can palletize, depalletize, and load trucks. In addition to lifting, it can also sort and organize boxes ahead of shipment to the consumer. Pickle Robots raised $3.7M in seed money in May and are looking to grow their staff from their current team of five. This is a natural progression of robotics in e-commerce and shows promise to offer relief for the personal fatigue and delay factors we face in shipping productivity.

Industry Challenges

Labour shortages! In May, Canada posted an unemployment rate of only 5.4%, the lowest it has been in over 30 years. The labour shortage, a result of an aging population and skills mismatch, has become so serious that economists are worried it is harming the economy. The Business Development Bank of Canada found that over 50% of small and medium sized businesses have had to limit their business investment, and in some cases turn down new business, due to labour shortages. The good news is that automation and robotics can offer some relief to this issue. The e-commerce robotics industry is becoming larger with each passing day, and there are now a variety of automated options available that can help combat manpower limitations. Robotics are growing in popularity due to their versatility and efficiency. We believe that with every challenge comes a new opportunity and turning to automation can not only mitigate labour risk, but also has the potential to offer a competitive advantage when properly deployed.

Alyssa Mosca
Metro Supply Chain Group