Skip to main content

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

Locus demonstrating LRAN at PROMAT 2017
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.”

Image used with permission by copyright holder

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.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

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.”

Editors' Recommendations

Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
AI turned Breaking Bad into an anime — and it’s terrifying
Split image of Breaking Bad anime characters.

These days, it seems like there's nothing AI programs can't do. Thanks to advancements in artificial intelligence, deepfakes have done digital "face-offs" with Hollywood celebrities in films and TV shows, VFX artists can de-age actors almost instantly, and ChatGPT has learned how to write big-budget screenplays in the blink of an eye. Pretty soon, AI will probably decide who wins at the Oscars.

Within the past year, AI has also been used to generate beautiful works of art in seconds, creating a viral new trend and causing a boon for fan artists everywhere. TikTok user @cyborgism recently broke the internet by posting a clip featuring many AI-generated pictures of Breaking Bad. The theme here is that the characters are depicted as anime characters straight out of the 1980s, and the result is concerning to say the least. Depending on your viewpoint, Breaking Bad AI (my unofficial name for it) shows how technology can either threaten the integrity of original works of art or nurture artistic expression.
What if AI created Breaking Bad as a 1980s anime?
Playing over Metro Boomin's rap remix of the famous "I am the one who knocks" monologue, the video features images of the cast that range from shockingly realistic to full-on exaggerated. The clip currently has over 65,000 likes on TikTok alone, and many other users have shared their thoughts on the art. One user wrote, "Regardless of the repercussions on the entertainment industry, I can't wait for AI to be advanced enough to animate the whole show like this."

Read more
4 simple pieces of tech that helped me run my first marathon
Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar displaying pace information.

The fitness world is littered with opportunities to buy tech aimed at enhancing your physical performance. No matter your sport of choice or personal goals, there's a deep rabbit hole you can go down. It'll cost plenty of money, but the gains can be marginal -- and can honestly just be a distraction from what you should actually be focused on. Running is certainly susceptible to this.

A few months ago, I ran my first-ever marathon. It was an incredible accomplishment I had no idea I'd ever be able to reach, and it's now going to be the first of many I run in my lifetime. And despite my deep-rooted history in tech, and the endless opportunities for being baited into gearing myself up with every last product to help me get through the marathon, I went with a rather simple approach.

Read more
This bracelet helps you fall asleep faster and sleep longer
woman-in-bed-wearing-twilight-apollo-on-ankle

This content was produced in partnership with Apollo Neuroscience.
Have you been struggling to get the recommended seven hours of sleep? It's always frustrating when you get in bed at a reasonable time, then toss and turn for a hours before you actually sleep. The quality of that sleep is important too. If you're waking up multiple times during the night, you're likely not getting the quality REM cycle sleep that truly rejuvenates your body. If traditional remedies like herbal teas and noise machines just aren't helping, maybe it's time to try a modern solution. Enter the Apollo wearable.

Now we understand being a little skeptical. How can a bracelet on your wrist or ankle affect your sleep patterns? Certainly the answer to a better night's sleep can't be so simple. We considered these same things when we first heard of it. We'll dive deeper into the science behind the Apollo wearable, but suffice it to say that many people have experienced deeper, uninterrupted sleep while wearing one.
A non-conventional approach to better sleep

Read more