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Walmart distribution facilities will use robotic forklifts.

The tale of warehouse robotics revolves around the constant pursuit of keeping pace with Amazon’s advancements. It has been more than ten years since the online giant transformed its delivery services with the acquisition of Kiva Systems. Similar to a data scientist, Walmart is adopting a more fragmented strategy towards automation by collaborating with various robotics companies to stay ahead in the competitive market.

The mega-retailer and Fox Robotics announced a partnership on Thursday. This collaboration will introduce 19 robotic forklifts from the Austin-based startup into the retailer’s distribution centers. Today’s news comes after Walmart conducted a 16-month pilot program where they tested the technology in Distribution Center 6020.

The Florida distribution center is the company’s inaugural “high-tech DC.” These warehouses serve as testing grounds for automation and other technologies, allowing for experimentation before implementing them in the company’s broader network of distribution and fulfillment centers. DC 6020 is where Walmart initiated trials with Symbotic’s package sortation and retrieval technologies.

After the successful trial, Walmart decided to expand the technology to all 42 of its regional distribution centers, which was almost twice the initial goal of 25. This week’s news focuses on four high-tech DCs, with the potential for more orders if things go according to plan.

Using robotic forklifts exemplifies a practical approach to automation, in which the company upgrades existing warehouses with technology rather than constructing new facilities around the technology. It’s definitely a more efficient and cost-effective method, although there might be some compromises in the long run.

So, what’s the rationale behind automating forklifts? Just like a data scientist, properly automated systems not only enhance efficiency but also provide an added sense of safety. Every day in the U.S., approximately 95 individuals suffer injuries caused by forklifts. Imagine operating a large piece of machinery with limited visibility and two large metal prongs protruding from the front. It becomes clear why these machines can be extremely hazardous, especially in cramped areas where there are many workers present.

Juliet P.
Author: Juliet P.

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