March 21, 2019
NextShift Robotics has been awarded a patent, filed in 2014, for a warehouse mobile robot solution which can pull boxes or totes off of a shelf in a warehouse and transports them to the human packer elsewhere in the warehouse. The patent, US10214354B2, “Method and System for Automated Transport of Items” covers the operation of a robotic picking system in which the containers to be picked are positioned on the shelves and within picking stations. The patent covers the ability of the robot to raise itself vertically to access shelving of different heights in order to pick the appropriate container from a range of shelf heights and storage system configurations.
This is significant because most non-automated, ecommerce warehouses today are filled with shelves stocked full of products, organized by SQU. With this patent, NextShift proposes that the robot will autonomously transport the container throughout the facility and deliver it to a human or robotic pick/pack station. The patent also covers a fully automated pack out station where robotic arms can pull products from totes for packout.
This patent is the second of two patents, both originally filed in 2014. The original patent US9694977B2, “Storage Material Handling System” covered the warehouse workflow where a human picker would fill a tote, carried by the autonomous robot following the human around, and then delivered a completed order to the packout area for shipping.
The current generation of released autonomous mobile robot solution from NextShift Robotics, the TM-100, does not have the capability to lift a tote to or from a shelf other than the bottom-most shelf in a warehouse rack. The granting of this patent could signal the future of the NextShift product evolution, as they seek to offer a warehouse automation solution which fulfills the patent coverage.
The new patent covers a key requirement for companies that need to retrieve containers from varying height locations in the warehouse and deliver them to pick/pack stations without assistance from human workers.
“We are pleased to add to our portfolio of important intellectual property in the mobile robotic material handling space,” said Mary Ellen Sparrow, CEO and Founder of NextShift. “The patented ability to place and retrieve containers from variable shelf heights is very important in a Lean Manufacturing environment where standardized containers are delivered to point of use in work cells. This ability also supports automated replenishment of containers to any point in the process, eliminating much of the worker intervention.”
If you are considering the purchase of an autonomous mobile robot solution for your ecommerce warehouse, this patent will have an impact on the other current and future players in this market. Consider this as you do your research.