It was after the invention of the wheel that human beings realized they could create objects and machines to ease their work. Since then, every invention, all the way from the Bronze Age to the Modern era, serves to ease our physical effort. However, will we achieve the ultimate goal of eliminating human presence from the clockwork that makes the world function with precision?
We might not have reached a point in time where we can sit back and enjoy our creative pursuits while lording over robots and Artificial Intelligence doing our mundane jobs, but Amazon, Ocado, Dominos, DHL, and Mercedes are doing everything to make this possible.
A major portion of Amazon’s business is listing products online for sale, storage and finally, the delivery of the product when it is purchased by a customer. They have automated a large portion of this process, like using robots in their distribution warehouses. Only their customer relations division still requires trained human presence.
Amazon has spent almost 800 million USD to develop robots that communicate with each other and identify, select and move goods around the warehouse without colliding and chaos. The whole warehouse is built and designed to accommodate these robots, with embedded grids, specifics rotation areas and special ‘magic shelves,’ as described by Amazon, that are tall storage units.
Ocado is an online grocery retailer that not only allows you to purchase groceries online but also delivers them to your location at the time of your choice. This not only involves complex calculations and data analytics but also incredibly fast sorting and packaging.
The calculations occur in real-time, delivery routes are calculated, travel time is taken into account and delivery van storage is modified as customers add products to their online shopping cart. Computers can do that within milliseconds, but can a human being keep pace with the sorting and packaging? Ocado didn’t think so. They developed a system they call the ‘Ocado Smart Platform (OSP).’ The robots operate on a grid reminiscent of container ports, where cranes on a frame roam over boxes and move them around. Ocado’s robots only shuffle boxes that humans pick and sort, but they’re as efficient as Amazon’s robots.
Most people aren’t aware of this, but pizzas are largely responsible for the improvement of customer servicing technology. Adapting and improving since the time we could place an order over a telephone, pizza houses have been the early adopters of all the latest technology in customer servicing and delivery; Dominos leading from the front. From their state of the art Virtual Assistant, from whom one can order pizza through an app, to their ‘pizzabot’ – which everyone thought was an April fool’s joke, they have been developing and testing the latest technology.
An autonomous battery-powered robot, the Pizza bot has a range of 20 kilometers and was first trialed in New Zealand. Domino’s Robotic Unit (DRU), running on military grade software, has a nearly perfect obstacle avoidance system. It has four wheels, is a meter tall and has two separate compartments, one to store cool beverages in and another which can store up to ten pizzas. It is also protected using a special code that is only available to the customer who has placed that specific order.
The fastest mode of travel is obviously air. It also becomes a safer and easier option when delivering parcels to remote locations. DHL has used this mode of travel to operate, and they have not so creatively named it the ‘Parcelcopter.’ The drone is capable of autonomously reaching any remote location that is equipped with a SkyPort (a post-office with a landing area for drones). This is an expensive addition to a remote area, considering that the drone can only carry a payload of two kilograms.
DHL has already installed a couple of SkyPorts in the mountains of Germany – in Reit in Winkl and Winklmoosalm. The completely autonomous UAV takes only nine minutes to cover 8.6 kilometers. While there has been trouble with regulatory bodies that monitor air traffic, no other aerial vehicles fly where DHL’s drones operate, thus reducing chances of collision to zero.
Daimler, Mercedes’ parent company, already has autonomous trucks running on the road. The Mercedes-Benz Actros truck, equipped with an intelligent Highway Pilot system, operates on public highways in Germany. Even though they are completely autonomous, there is a driver present to monitor and intervene when necessary. Daimler envisions that by 2025, it will be able to launch completely autonomous, unmanned vehicles that are much safer than a human-driven truck.
Robots are becoming more advanced, and as they progress, they’re easily taking over jobs that are low-skilled (the majority of current jobs). As technology progresses, the line between the capabilities of a robot and human being will blur, and we are going to reach a point of time when job listings will say “Humans Need Not Apply.”