The world’s first humanless warehouse is run only by robots and is a model for the future

The world’s first humanless warehouse is run only by robots and is a model for the future, by Tim Hornyak.

Mujin, a start-up spun out of Tokyo University, has developed robot controllers that can fully automate warehouses and fulfillment centers. …

Mujin turned heads when it showed off its transformation of a warehouse operated by Chinese e-commerce giant JD.com. The 40,000-sq-m facility in Shanghai began full operations in June. It was equipped with 20 industrial robots that pick, transfer and pack packages using crates on conveyor belts, as well as camera systems and Mujin robot controllers. Other robots carted merchandise around to loading docks and trucks.

Amazon also has invested heavily in automating its fulfillment centers, buying Mass.-based robot company Kiva Systems for $775 million in 2012, but JD.com called its facility the world’s first fully automated e-commerce warehouse. Instead of the usual 400 to 500 workers needed to run a warehouse that size, it needs only five. And their job is only to service the machines, not run operations. …

“In the U.S., robot technology is often undervalued and directly compared to the value of human workers, ” said [Mujin’s American co-founder and CTO, Rosen Diankov]. “If you’re going to be competing with that from day one, maybe you have no room to grow quickly. In Japan they have a mindset that values robotics much more, even if it sometimes doesn’t make economic sense. They’re willing to jump into investments into robotics.”

Diankov believes fears of robots taking jobs from people don’t reflect the reality of the workplace.

“Introducing robots creates more jobs, and history has shown that’s been the case,” he said. “Companies that have embraced automation, like Toyota — it’s the biggest car company in the world now.”