Smart factory 'LocusBots' talk to each other to work more efficiently

Anyone who has ever worked as part of a team (which, in today’s hyperconnected world, is virtually everyone) will know that things work better when people talk with one another. This way knowledge gets shared, collaborations become possible, and individual successes or mistakes are collectively learned from.

Why would you think that things would be any different in the world of robotics?

That’s exactly what the folks at Locus Robotics have been proving with a major new software update for their factory robot LocusBots. LocusBots are autonomous warehouse robots, capable of moving autonomously through a space and then transporting items from where they’re picked off shelves to the place they’re packaged into boxes and shipped out. Previously this was done individually, with each robot working in isolation. Thanks to the new LRAN system — short for Locus Robotics Advanced Navigation — it’s now a team effort.

“It’s like a real-time indoor Waze for robots,” Locus president Mike Johnson told Digital Trends. “With this technology, robots can literally see around the corner.”

factory locusbots talk to each other creditsharonattia 2

Johnson’s not referring to new X-ray abilities for the company’s factory bots (although that does give us a good idea for a future startup). Instead, he’s talking about a way that LocusBots can share data with one another to help make them collectively smarter. This is where the Waze comparison comes in, referring to the smartphone app which enables drivers to alert one another of road conditions as they drive.

“The challenge we’re responding to is that the facilities these robots are working at are huge,” Johnson continued. “We call them unstructured environments because they have a lot of equipment, a lot of people, and they change quickly. There are products coming in and products going out all the time. Our goal is to make things simple for operators. We want them to bring in robots and immediately see an increase in performance. The big change we’ve made to achieve this is giving robots the ability to collaborate. Rather than robots that just follow paths, these robots talk among one another, sharing information about the environment they’re in, and doing this in real time.”

The new system debuted at this week’s industry trade show ProMat in Chicago. At the show, six LocusBots were shown navigating the floor, avoiding bumping into each other or any humans that happen to get in their way. It’s an impressive demonstration of real-time route planning and crowdsourced information — and Johnson said it works as well with 50 or 100 robots as it does with six.

factory locusbots talk to each other locus2 creditlocus

It’s also a nifty example of how robots can become more efficient, even without having to be physically retooled.

“While we have improved the hardware over time, this is all about the software,” he said. “The great thing about software today — including the software that we use — is that it can be pushed out, and within minutes all of our robots have it. It’s like a Tesla, where suddenly they have this new navigation system that lets them operate better.”

So will robot collaboration one day go beyond this so that, for instance, multiple robots could help one another perform impromptu tasks on the warehouse floor as and when needed?

“I think that will be there,” Johnson concluded. “Right now, robotics is on the early part of the adoption curve. We’re seeing a lot of interest, and a lot of fascinating work done with sensors. I do think that we’ll see some more interplay as these robots collaborate in new and different ways.”

Emerging Tech

Robot janitors will soon be scrubbing the floors at your local Walmart

Hundreds of robot janitors will soon be working at Walmart stores across the U.S. The company says the autonomous floor scrubbers will free its human staff from monotonous tasks so they can spend more time helping customers.
Smart Home

Forget the fecal matter forever and let this toilet-scrubbing robot take over

Vacuum cleaning robots are dandy, but how much would you pay for a robot that cleanstoilets? Altan Robotech is betting that people will shell out $500 for its Giddell Toilet Cleaning Robot, which goes on sale today at Amazon and New Egg.
Emerging Tech

The U.S. Army could acquire a fleet of 3,000 bomb-defusing scorpion robots

The U.S. Army may be on its way to acquiring a fleet of battlefield-ready scorpion robots. The robots are small enough to be carried in a backpack and can be powered up in less than a minute.
Emerging Tech

Early-detection system for wildfires could save many states from big burns

When it comes to dealing with the growing problem of raging wildfires, a new wireless smart sensor system could help spot burgeoning blazes before they rage out of control. Here's how it works.
Outdoors

Light up the night! Here are the five best headlamps money can buy

Headlamps make all the difference when camping or walking the dog at night, especially when you're in need of both hands. From Black Diamond and Petzl to Coast here are some of the best headlamps on the market.
Emerging Tech

Elon Musk to unveil tunnel elevators and autonomous pods on December 18

We'll soon learn if Elon Musk's high-speed tunnel plan is a serious effort at ending traffic jams or little more than a fancy theme park ride. A big unveiling event is coming on December 18, a week later than originally planned.
Emerging Tech

Hear the sounds of wind on Mars from InSight’s latest audio recording

NASA's InSight craft has captured the sound of the wind blowing on the surface of Mars. The audio file was picked up by the air pressure sensor and the seismometer which detected vibrations from the 10 to 15 mph winds in the area.
Emerging Tech

The best drone photos from around the world

Most of today's drones come equipped with high-end cameras, which are quickly revolutionizing the world of aerial photography as we know it. Here are some of the best drone photos from around the world.
Emerging Tech

Feast your eyes on the wildest, most elaborate Rube Goldberg machines ever built

Want to see something totally mesmerizing? Check out several of the best Rube Goldberg machines from across the internet, including one that serves cake and other that do ... nothing particularly useful.
Emerging Tech

The 20 best tech toys for kids will make you wish you were 10 again

Looking for the perfect toy or gadget for your child? Thankfully, we've rounded up some of our personal favorite tech toys, including microscopes, computer kits, and a spherical droid from a galaxy far, far away.
Emerging Tech

Scoot your commute! Here are the 9 best electric scooters on the market

Electric scooters are an affordable, convenient way to minimize your carbon footprint and zip around town. Check out 8 of our current favorites, whether you're working with a budget or have some cash to spare.
Emerging Tech

Sick of walking everywhere? Here are the best electric skateboards you can buy

Thanks for Kickstarter and Indiegogo, electric skateboards are carving a bigger niche than you might think. Whether you're into speed, mileage, or something a bit more stylish, here are the best electric skateboards on the market.
Features

Has Columbus, Ohio raised its IQ yet? A progress report from the mayor

Two years ago, the city of Columbus in Ohio received $40 million to pursue smart city initiatives. So, what’s happened since then? We spoke with its mayor, Andrew Ginther, to discuss progress and what’s ahead.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Folding canoes and ultra-fast water filters

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!