Fetch Unveils Robot Duo to Adapt Warehouses for Quick-Delivery Era

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operate a warehouse at temperatures or other conditions that human beings couldn’t tolerate, Wise says.

“You can have lights-out operations,” Wise says. “That’s a big cost savings.”

Wise says it’s hard to name a price range for the Fetch robots, which would be sold as a part of a system tailored to meet a customer’s particular needs. The software and the numbers of Fetch and Freight robots would vary, and some degree of retrofitting might be required, she says.

Fetch has already been in touch with potential partners, but by showcasing its robot technology it’s hoping to get the word out to a broader range of companies that might want to set up a pilot project for an interesting new application, Wise says. After a short pilot run for a specific use, Fetch expects to be able to supply robots not only to the original partner, but also to offer them for sale to similar companies.

The Fetch robots have a modular design that could accommodate new types of sensors, collection containers, and grippers to handle new tasks or larger products, Wise says. Fetch can now pick up items weighing up to 13 pounds, and Freight can transport as much as 150 pounds. There are plenty of new challenges to tackle, Wise says. At this point, for example, Fetch couldn’t handle selecting items of clothing from a group of garments.

The company plans to continue adding new capabilities to its robot pair, which can operate as a team or separately. “It really depends on the interest we find for different capabilities,” Wise says.

If anyone could be expected to predict a rapid expansion of robot uses over the next decade or so, Wise would seem to be that person. Starting as a college student intern, she has worked on projects including autonomous boats and cars, personal robot butlers, and robots that can plug themselves in for a re-charge. But Wise says she doesn’t expect to see scads of high-complexity robots commercialized in the near future, and certainly not at low cost.

“I know how hard it is,” Wise says. Designers have already whittled down the cost of robot components, but they’ll need to make even further gains, she says. And they’ll have to overcome many snags as robots begin to operate in the messy environment of the real world.

“I think it will take a good 50 years to do the things that everyone thinks will be done 10 years from now,” Wise says.

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