11 April 2018

Aerial Drone System To Be Deployed in Freight Warehouses By The End Of This Year  

(But Don't Get Too Excited - They Can Check Stock - Not Move Cargo)

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Shipping News Feature FRANCE – After almost two years of development, a project by supply chain and logistics group Geodis, and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) manufacturers Delta Drone, to completely automate a warehouse inventory solution using drones, will be operational at the end of 2018. Note that word 'inventory', a system of physical aerial freight movement should not be envisioned!

More than 1,000 flight hours in prototype mode across three pilot warehouses were required to arrive at a solution which will allow companies to perform completely automatic warehouse inventories without interrupting their usual operations or requiring any human intervention. Such stock assessments, with the drones performing the inventories outside normal warehouse operating hours, should lead to productivity gains.

Other advantages are greater safety at work for the site’s employees, who no longer have to carry out this tedious and sometimes risky task; and a greater reliability of the inventory with all information collected and stored digitally.

In the prototyping phase, multiple tests were carried out in real operating conditions in order to meet the specific constraints of warehouses, such as low light or the impact that the plastic film covering pallets has on image capturing, a factor which required special adaptations to the cameras embedded in the drones.

The prototyping phase was completed in 2017 with the development of a complete ‘plug and play’ solution which the partners say can be easily moved from one warehouse to another without requiring that any prior changes be made to the site. This solution is also designed to adapt to all types of Warehouse Management Systems (WMS).

Based on the results of its testing, Geodis and Delta Drone say that they are now working on producing a system that can be manufactured, focusing their attention on the solution’s design and the final choice of the best components. The aim is to move to the industrial production stage at the end of the year. Initially, Geodis will be the exclusive user of this solution in its own warehouses.

The mechanics of the system combines a ground-based robot equipped with a battery that provides the energy needed to navigate a warehouse and allows freedom from autonomy constraints, and a quadcopter drone equipped with four high-definition cameras. This set, equipped with indoor geolocation technology, operates autonomously during the hours the site is closed.

From an IT point of view, the drone enables the counting and reporting of data in real time, the processing of data, and its restitution in the warehouse’s information system. The tests conducted during this initial development phase show that the solution enables inventory to be managed reliably with rates close to 100%.

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