The warehouse of the future: mobile-piece picking robots becoming a reality
“Slow and steady” perhaps best defined the development of commercial robotics in the past. The anticipation for advancements has been building for many years. But the progress is clear, and many industries are now seeing the widespread benefits of implementing such tools. While it took decades to implement 1.2 million robots, it will only take us around 3 more years to reach 2.6 million.
Yet still, when talking logistics, there are many routine challenges faced within the warehouse environment that can be transformed by breakthroughs in robotics. Demands for improved productivity and operational efficiency along the supply chain continue to increase, whilst the global availability of qualified staff is decreasing. Therefore, the push for innovation remains – it is not a matter of ‘if’ but rather ‘when’.
At DHL, we estimate that the implementation of robotics will be the norm in the logistics industry within less than five years. The race is therefore very much on to develop the required robotic solutions. As technology continues to evolve, making the previously impossible possible, designers and innovators are constantly being presented with new ways to activate change and optimize processes.
Mobile piece-picking robots are becoming a reality
Until very recently, mobile piece-picking robots were considered a too complex, and therefore unrealistic, solution to the varying demands of the average distribution center. Now the list of limitations is quickly shrinking, as the technology becomes available to make the concept increasingly viable. The prospect of robots working alongside human workers is now very much a reality, with the scope for collaboration able to optimize warehouse processes.
Typical warehouse employees are required to exert significant physical efforts in their roles. Mobile piece-picking robots are capable of supporting workers, by removing the need for labor to be devoted to repetitive and dangerous tasks. Instead allowing for more human time to then be spent on more complex and rewarding work such as maintaining and training robots, benefitting employees and employers alike.
To help achieve this, and further realize the operational benefits of robotic collaboration along the supply chain, DHL is working alongside tech specialists, such as Fetch Robotics, to explore the multiple applications of robotics in logistics. DHL is committed to prove to the industry that robots are here to work with humans, not against them – offering greater efficiencies to organizations and their staff.
Robotics Challenge: we invite you to be a part of the future warehouse
The DHL Robotics Challenge has been launched to reward new and emerging inventive talent, and to popularize robotics amongst start-ups, researchers and university students.
This year’s challenge, in partnership with Dell EMC, focuses on mobile piece-picking robotics, inviting all inventors, visionaries and forward thinkers to develop a prototype that can be used in a typical warehouse environment. Capable of autonomous mobility at walking speed, the prototypes will be judged on their originality, functionality, perceived commercial feasibility, aesthetics and potential to solve current warehousing challenges.
Three finalists will then be selected by an expert judging panel, and flown to the DHL Innovation Centre in Troisdorf, Germany, where they will be presenting their prototypes at the DHL Innovation Day on 7th December 2017. Audience at the event, consisting of over 180 senior supply chain professionals, will be live-voting for the winner, who will be awarded €15,000 for first place. The competition will also engage in a joint proof-of-concept with DHL and Dell EMC.
Google and NIST Address Supply Chain Cybersecurity
As high-level supply chain attacks hit the news, Google and the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have both developed proposals for how to address software supply chain security. This isn’t a new field, unfortunately. Since supply chains are a critical part of business resilience, criminals have no qualms about targeting its software. That’s why identifying, assessing, and mitigating cyber supply chain risks (C-SCRM) is at the top of Google and NIST’s respective agendas.
High-Profile Supply Chain Attacks
According to Google, no comprehensive end-to-end framework exists to mitigate threats across the software supply chain. [Yet] ‘there is an urgent need for a solution in the face of the eye-opening, multi-billion-dollar attacks in recent months...some of which could have been prevented or made more difficult’.
Here are several of the largest cybersecurity failures in recent months:
- SolarWinds. Alleged Russian hackers slipped malicious code into a routine software update, which they then used as a Trojan horse for a massive cyberattack.
- Codecov. Attackers used automation to collect credentials and raid ‘additional resources’, such as data from other software development vendors.
- Malicious attacks on open-source repositories. Out of 1,000 GitHub accounts, more than one in five contained at least one dependency confusion-related misconfiguration.
As a result of these attacks and Biden’s recent cybersecurity mandate, NIST and Google took action. NIST held a 1,400-person workshop and published 150 papers worth of recommendations from Microsoft, Synopsys, The Linux Foundation, and other software experts; Google will work with popular source, build, and packaging platforms to help companies implement and excel at their SLSA framework.
What Are Their Recommendations?
Here’s a quick recap: NIST has grouped together recommendations to create federal standards; Google has developed an end-to-end framework called Supply Chain Levels for Software Artifacts (SLSA)—pronounced “Salsa”. Both address software procurement and security.
Now, here’s the slightly more in-depth version:
- NIST. The organisation wants more ‘rigorous and predictable’ ways to secure critical software. They suggest that firms use vulnerability disclosure programmes (VDP) and software bills of materials (SBOM), consider simplifying their software and give at least one developer per project security training.
- Google. The company thinks that SLSA will encompass the source-build-publish software workflow. Essentially, the four-level framework helps businesses make informed choices about the security of the software they use, with SLSA 4 representing an ideal end state.
If this all sounds very abstract, consider the recent SolarWinds attack. The attacker compromised the build platform, installed an implant, and injected malicious behaviour during each build. According to Google, higher SLSA levels would have required stronger security controls for the build platform, making it more difficult for the attacker to succeed.
How Do The Proposals Differ?
As Brian Fox, the co-founder and CTO at Sonatype, sees it, NIST and Google have created proposals that complement each other. ‘The NIST [version] is focused on defining minimum requirements for software sold to the government’, he explained, while Google ‘goes [further] and proposes a specific model for scoring the supply chain. NIST is currently focused on the “what”. Google, along with other industry leaders, is grappling with the “how”’.