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Five robots for food delivery

Five robots for food delivery

A talent-scarce industry is turning to automation in an effort to feed millions in isolation.

Robots helping feed the US: (left to right) Brain Corp floor scraper; Titanium FarmWise; FedEx Roxo; Center for micro-production of fabrics; and Fetch Robotics © FT montage

As Covid-19 threatens to disrupt the U.S. food supply chain, businesses have to figure out how to feed millions of people amid blockages through an understaffed supply chain.

As a result, there is a growing demand for robotics companies whose machines can collect, process and deliver food, rapidly accelerating the already existing trend towards automation.

“Everyone is talking about the wave of automation, the wave of artificial intelligence, and this fourth industrial revolution, but these trends have only grown,” said Scott Snyder, consultant and partner at Heidrick and Struggles. "Now, all of a sudden, a business case that could have been marginal in the past — placing a picking and packing robot in your backroom — has become much more attractive."

Here are five machines that led to the food robotics revolution.

Brain Corp floor cleaner

Brain Corp robots collectively clean 8,000 hours daily © GARRETT RICHARDSON

At supermarkets such as Walmart and Kroger, autonomous floor cleaners move up and down the aisles every night, ensuring a spotless look.

Since 2016, Brain Corp, backed by SoftBank, has equipped thousands of robots with their sensors and software, and they now perform 8,000 hours of work together every day, said CEO Yevgeny Izhikevich. The company raised $ 36 million last month in response to a new surge in demand caused by labor shortages in supermarkets.

“Every day we devote 8,000 hours to key workers, for example, for other tasks. ... for precision cleaning, [disinfection] of pens, restocking or just the necessary break, ”said Mr. Izhikevich. "Thus, robots do not do all the cleaning, but do the most monotonous work."

FarmWise robotic weeding service

Titan is equipped with artificial intelligence that allows it to identify weeds for removal.

On farms, the demand for automated crop growing solutions has skyrocketed. In California, venture-backed FarmWise has seen "orders of magnitude" greater appetite for its products following the Covid-19 outbreak, according to CEO Sebastian Boyer.

FarmWise's Agribot Titan is a giant orange robot equipped with artificial intelligence that allows it to identify weeds for removal, helping farmers improve their efficiency and harvest more on their land.

FarmWise, a team of 50, currently has seven robots in operation. According to Mr. Boyer, 20 percent of all field workforce in southern California is made up of temporary workers from Mexico. Since the border is actually closed amid coronavirus quarantine, farmers are looking for alternative solutions in the world of work.

FedEx's SameDay bot, also known as Roxo

Roxo can climb stairs and leave packages at your home

Roxo, the "SameDay Bot" from FedEx, is a last mile courier who can climb stairs and drop packages at your home. The current prototypes have some twists, such as confusion in the shadows, but they are expected to be delivered to FedEx offices by the end of this year.

Over the past few months, FedEx has expanded its list of partners willing to use its services to include McDonald's, Walmart, CVS, AutoZone and Target. Collectively, its customers have about 80,000 locations in the United States, potentially giving FedEx huge economies of scale to make robot delivery a major focus over the next 18 to 36 months.

We can drive the economy to the point where it makes sense to have a fleet of bots lined up outside of a store or restaurant ready to meet demand,” said Brian Philips, chief executive of the FedEx Office.

Warehouse robots Fetch Robotics

Warehouse robots transport goods to locations and can carry payloads of up to 1,500 kg © Dave Lin

San Jose-based Fetch Robotics builds warehouse robots that transport goods to locations. The robots, already in operation in 22 countries for over 100 customers, are available in three sizes and can carry payloads from 100 to 1500 kg.

COO Melonie Wise said that over the past two months, Fetch has shifted its focus to core service providers, helping companies adhere to social distancing principles. She added that the demand for disinfecting robots has skyrocketed, which is why the company is now equipping its machines with tools such as ultraviolet light to kill germs.

What makes us unique is that our robots are deployed in the cloud,” she said. "This way we can track all of [them] in real time on a global scale, making it much easier to maintain and deploy ... If you want to buy a robot today, you can get it up and running in less than eight hours."

Micro-fabrication centers

Fabric Automated Micro Execution Centers Allow Grocers To Compete With Amazon For Same Day Delivery

Fabric is building automated micro-fulfillment centers that aim to make grocery stores competitive with Amazon's same day delivery capabilities. Operations at its flagship center in Israel increased 200 percent between March and April, and it is currently in the process of building its first US center in Brooklyn, New York.

Before the pandemic, online grocery stores accounted for less than 5% of America's $ 682 billion grocery market, according to IbisWorld. This share is expected to exceed 10 percent this year.

What grocers have seen in the past four weeks is what they expected to see in the next four years,” said Elram Goren, chief executive of Fabric.

Grocers are slow to adapt to e-grocery shopping because potential customers are putting them in Trap-22 of offering online orders and losing money on every sale, or refusing to offer a service and seeing a chunk of your business drift away from online competitors.

But by bringing inventory closer to shoppers and using robots to pick and pack goods, Goren argued that he could change the equation and forever change the way consumers buy food, even after the pandemic is over.

I believe a lot of this will remain,” he said. "Covid will change this industry - or at least accelerate it a few years into the future."

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