“The future has already arrived,” declared Dr. Dan Grollman’s exciting article “Robots ‘Over There‘”. By building robots that can occasionally call for help from digitally connected humans, Plus One supplies robots that can continue working well even when faced with new or uncertain tasks. Instead of engineering an automation task into submission, imperfect autonomy can be augmented by human intelligence, making it deployable now. For many material handling and sorting tasks, it is easy to imagine that help might be needed when a robot comes across a new or unusual item, when items get stuck together, or when an item is damaged. While it is true that the connected humans, called Crew Chiefs at Plus One, can help put a robot back in action, this instantaneous rescue is not the only benefit that comes with a connected Crew Chief. In this article I would like to explain how a Crew Chief brings four value propositions to a connected robotic system.
Accelerate Deployment: Let’s talk about the lengthy process of legacy system integration and deployment, and how a Crew Chief can accelerate this process. Typical automation must be integrated and deployed in steps, starting with a proof of concept, then proceeding to a factory acceptance test, site acceptance test, and finally — after a successful track record of a few months in operation — replication across a network of parallel stations/buildings. By introducing a Crew Chief, it is possible in many situations to perform an abbreviated proof of concept test, and then skip directly to site acceptance testing. The Crew Chief functions as “training wheels” to keep the system performance up while the AI is learning. Once trained, the AI performs the majority of task cycles, leaning on the Crew Chief only occasionally to solve the corner case problems.
Lengthen Walk-away Time: Even after the AI is fully optimized, there will be corner cases that the AI hasn’t seen, which will cause the system to fault or to be caught in unproductive loops. Normally this would require local intervention by a “water spider” — someone to walk to the robot to physically reset the system. In large operations, this can mean hundreds of yards of walking each time a fault occurs. However, a Crew Chief can often solve these problems in a matter of seconds with no delay for walking.
Gracefully Cope with Change: Change is inevitable. New SKUs, new packaging, new bar codes/labels, new totes, new conveyor belts, and new package sizes can kill the performance of well-tuned automation. The AI will learn to cope eventually, but in the interim, the Crew Chief can help keep quality high and the automation productive.
Recognize Maintenance Needs: A Crew Chief will often know that maintenance is needed before local facility staff. For instance, if a gripper suction cup rips (hurting pick quality), the Crew Chief will recognize the issue and contact appropriate maintenance staff to request spare parts. This reduces/eliminates down time through early detection of degraded performance, skips past diagnostic steps and brings the needed resources to bear immediately.
Once you think about it this way, involving a Crew Chief is an obvious approach to automating challenging and changing tasks. This is why at Plus One Robotics we say: “Robots work. People rule.”
Find out more about Yonder, our software-as-a-service that connects Crew Chiefs to robots.