Imagine standing in a warehouse from the future where robots, more like bugs, are zipping past you, carrying storage racks. The commotion looks like its going to end in chaos. Only it will not. This is not a scene from a sci-fi flick or an Asimov novel. Neither is it a warehouse from the future.
These robots, in a warehouse in Delhi, know exactly where they are going and they work tirelessly without a break in an orderly fashion. A network of autonomous robot system called the Butler system, made by Gurgaon based Grey Orange Robotics (GOR) is making this happen, saving e-commerce companies precious hours and money.
The startup, founded by BITS Pilani alumni Samay Kohli, 27 and Akash Gupta, 24 has been operating in the field of robotics for some time now and their products are revolutionising warehouse management of many companies in the country.
Their love for robotics, goes way back to their college days. In 2007 Samay found and lead team AcYut, a humanoid robot developed at the center for robotics at BITS Pilani, their alma mater. The duo travelled and took part in various robotic competition, like RobOlympics and Robocup, around the world as a part of this team.
After college the duo, turned down job offers from the US and decided to startup in the robotics space and Grey Orange Robotics was founded in 2009. They started off as an education and training company for robotics. One of their first workshop was conducted at IIT-Bombay.
Soon after they also got into manufacturing white labeled products like medical devices, RFID detectors and other such products for companies in the US and South Korea. Samay and Akash realised that they were product people and this is not where they saw themselves in the future.
In 2011, on a visit to a warehouse of an ecommerce company in the capital, they duo saw that there was hardly any automation involved in inventory management and it looked like nothing the e-retailer described in its advertisement. Samay says, “The warehouse did not even have a conveyor belt.”
He adds, “We knew that if we had to get better at whatever we do, our work had to be concentrated on a company’s or segment’s requirement. We soon decided that swarm robotics technology was the way to go”
Wolfgang Hoeltgen, a consultant with with IBM, took notice of their work and invited them over to Germany to attend a robotics conference. He was impressed with their work and made an angel investment in the company. Today Wolfgang, their mentor and third co-founder, spends nearly half the year in India overseeing the company’s development.
The company has 2 main products for the warehousing segment, the Sortation system and the Butler system.
The Sorter system is a conveyor system with robotic arms to sort packages according to their attributes. A barcode scanner first identifies the package, followed by a volumetric scan (to determine the weight) following which the packages are directed via robotic arms to the designated delivery vendor. The system can currently process 3500 items an hour.
The device was first developed and piloted at the Flipkart warehouse in Whitefield, Bangalore. Soon the company received orders for 2 more devices to be installed at the e-tailer’s warehouses in Delhi.
The Butler system is a grid of paths across a warehouse floor on which fast moving mobile robots traverse, fetching racks of items to a packer. Once the packer removes the item and packs it for shipping, the racks are replaced back to their place by the robots.
How The Butler Works
Once an item is requested by a human, a system designates a pick station based on availability.
A Butler robot rolls and fetches the rack containing the correct item and a laser points to assist with the correct items to be picked.
Every item pick or put process is double confirmed by the operator by scanning item barcodes, ensuring that the wrong items are not picked or put.
Once the system determines that the correct item has been picked, it illuminates the corresponding shipment container for the order and the Butler robots takes away the racks back to a new storage location.
The system requires less than 45 days to install, is bidirectional, and can do up to 600 picks an hour per robot. It system can be integrated with most warehouse management system(WMS) in the market such as SAP, Microsoft, RedPraire, InforWMS.
“Traditionally, warehouses follow the people to goods model and the butler system introduces a goods to people model. Just like a butler bringing a tray to the master,” says Samay.
Humans are Slower
In a traditional setup, a human can perform between 100-120 item picks in a day and our system improves this to around 450-600 item picks an hour, he adds.
The startup has implemented it’s systems at the warehouses of some the top e-commerce players in the country. Its customers include leading e-commerce companies in the country like Flipkart and Jabong. The company is also looking to tap into the international markets, soon.
The company today has around 35 engineers and plans to expand to a 50 member team soon.
In January 2013, the company raised Rs 3 crores from a group of investors lead by Blume Ventures, BITS Spark Angels and other angels including Hatch Group, Samir Sood and Raju Reddy.