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The world’s first humanless warehouse ran by robots

Mujin, a start-up spun out of Tokyo University, has developed robot controllers that can make warehouses and fulfilment centres fully automated.

The system is still a prototype and doesn’t work perfectly yet.

Mujin hopes to become an industry leader in automating logistics processes by building robot controllers and camera systems that have integrated industrial robot arms. The controllers act as operating systems that can control the hardware from any robot manufacturer. This means that specific goals, such as picking up an object, can be input and the controllers automatically generate motions for the robots without having to manually teach them. According to Mujin this results in higher productivity for users.

In effect, due to the motion planning and computer vision, the robots are capable of autonomous action.

In June, a 40,000-sq-m warehouse operated by Chinese e-commerce company JD.com began full operation 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. Robots were also used to cart products to loading docks. This has meant that instead of the usual 400 to 500 workers needed to run a warehouse that size, it needs only five workers to service the machines.

The controllers made by Mujin do not learn to complete tasks by trial and error, rather they are programmed to complete a specific task very well, with every position of every joint tracked down to the millisecond. Whilst this puts a lot of pressure on the controllers in terms of computation, it does lower the possibility for error. Fast microchips that can evaluate tens of thousands of possible moves, choosing the best one in less than a second are a vital part of the controllers.

Mujin’s American co-founder and CTO, Rosen Diankov said: “The approach is like that of a train, plane or rocket — you don’t want it to be self-learning, just predictable when it goes from A to B. That’s how you create innovation, with perfectly predictable systems. That’s what we’re trying to do with robotics. I like to call this machine intelligence, not artificial intelligence.”

Mujin’s aim is to expand its reach, automating warehouses in the United States.

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