How robots are succeeding (and failing) in the world of logistics

RoboBusiness Direct

In September 2019, I presented at the RIA’s first Autonomous Mobile Robot (AMR) Conference in Louisville, Ky. I talked about the opportunities that existed for AMRs in the world of logistics. The talk was focused very much on the technical side and how to address logistic operations beyond just warehousing. I touched a bit on the role humans play in all of this, but not as much as I could have.

Now I have the opportunity to address more of the human side of robots in logistics via RoboBusiness Direct. I will give a new talk on Thursday, June 25, called “How Robots Are Succeeding (and Failing) in the World of Logistics.” I really wanted to call it “How Robots Are Succeeding (and Failing) in the World of Logistics Due To Humans Doing The Right Things (Or Completely Messing It All Up),” but I couldn’t fit it all onto my title slide.

So what will I be talking about? As the title suggests, I will be highlighting where we as an industry are having successes in deploying robots into logistics operations. Many of these successes have been well documented in the press.

However, what about the failures? Those don’t appear that much in the press until a company completely collapses, and even then, not all of the missteps are listed out that lead to that company shutting its doors. So I will discuss where I have seen people fall off the rails when it comes to getting robots into logistics.

Part of the inspiration of this talk came from an earlier meeting in 2019 with members of the academic community while working on the new 2020 U.S. Robotics Roadmap in Chicago. I found it fascinating how many of them talked about how they could only publish their successes and not their failures. My response to that was, “So what prevents others from doing the same thing, wasting time and resources, to just fail again?”

If we know where others have failed, the hope would be we learn from that and don’t do the same exact thing again. My team at FedEx documents our successes and our failures. Failures create opportunities, but that is only if you learn from those failures. By following this philosophy, we increase our wins and minimize our losses.

My hope is that by pointing out some of these failures, the larger robotics and logistics communities can start to address them and work beyond them. By doing that we should see more successes and, therefore, more deployments. A rising tide lifts all ships.

I look forward to talking to everyone on Thursday. To sign up for my talk and all the other RoboBusiness Directs, click here.

Aaron Prather FedEx

About the author

With nearly 25 years at FedEx, Aaron Prather has developed and deployed numerous technology applications across the FedEx enterprise. From Hub operations in Memphis, Indianapolis, and Oakland, to Courier Operations around the world, he has worked in every corner of FedEx’s day-to-day operations.

In his current role as Senior Advisor, Technology Planning & Research, Prather leads efforts to find and deploy new technologies into FedEx operations, including robotics and automation. He sits on the company’s Operations Technology Council which coordinates efforts across all of the FedEx companies.

Outside of FedEx, Aaron participates in developing robot standards at the RIA and UL. Through the FedEx Institute of Technology at the University of Memphis, he works with universities and colleges in the development of educational programs for the next generation of technologists in logistics. Prather received an MBA from Christian Brothers University and holds a BS from University of Memphis in Geographic Information Science and Cartography.

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