BreakThrough Interview

CarriRo® Logistics Support Robot Reduces Physical Work & Eases Labor ShortagesZMP Inc.

2019.03.28

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CarriRo® offers two modes of movement: Autonomous Moving Mode, and Following Mode, which tracks a human leader like a row of ducklings.

summary

  • Develop robots to address labor shortages.
  • Manufacturing to provide convenience to users.
  • Offered at low cost to help clients reduce spending.

There are many concerns about a labor shortage as the production workforce populations shrinks. In particular, securing humans resources is an important task in logistics warehouses, which operate continually all day and night. Robots are in demand to help reduce staff workload. ZMP Inc. created CarriRo®, a handcart-style logistics support robot that enables a few workers to move big loads. Client companies have reported reduced work time and costs since sales began in 2016.
We talked to CarriRo®’s business manager Mr. Kasagi about the story of developing this handcart-style logistics support robot, and his expectations for the future.

ZMP Inc.: Robot of Everything

ZMP Inc. was founded in 2001 as a company to build bipedal walking robots. Their goal is to solve societal problems through robot making technology, as expressed through their mission statement: Creating a safe, fun and more convenient lifestyle through automated self-driving machinery. Main projects include development of self-driving vehicles and ADAS (advanced driver assistance systems), a generic term for driving support functions. ADAS gives drivers greater safety and comfort by capturing information about the immediate surroundings of the vehicle, providing accurate notifications and alerts, and controlling the car instead of a human driver. In August 2018, they ran the world’s first autonomous driving taxi which successfully performed automated driving for over 90% of the route between Tokyo Station (Omachi-cho) and Roppongi. They are working on running an automated taxi service by 2020.

The Beginning of Logistics Robot Development

CarriRo®’s concept began when ZMP Inc. observed the staff of a delivery center near its office pushing two carts at once to transport cargo, explains Mr. Kasagi. They began to wonder if autonomous vehicle technology could be used to make something that would help reduce the workload of the warehouse staff.
Next, they talked to multiple companies to see if there was a genuine need for such a product among potential users, and the response was clear: Yes, absolutely! Serious development began in 2014. Trial demonstrations began the next year, after completing a prototype that followed a walking human leader. Continual adjustments were made for automatic control, tracking speed, stopping position, and starting movement through careful consideration of hands-on user experience as human leaders walked without consideration of CarriRo® during trials. In August 2016, sales began for CarriRo®FD with Following Mode that tracks a walking human leader like a row of ducklings. In 2018, CarriRo®AD with Autonomous Moving Mode was released to make unmanned cargo transport a reality.

CarriRo® Overview

CarriRo® is a handcart-style logistics support robot. It weighs 55kg but can carry up to 150kg of cargo, or tow up to 300kg.
When a human is operating it, Drive Mode allows for effortless starting movement and lets the user transport cargo without feeling any weight or drag. Users can wiggle the joystick control on the cart handle to command movement in any direction (up, down, left, right). If you release the handle, it will automatically slow down to a complete stop.

Following Mode tracks a signal device called a beacon that a walking human leader can put in their pocket or on their belt. The cart follows the leader and maintains a 50cm gap when the human stops. If you place another beacon on the CarriRo® in Following Mode, a second CarriRo® can join the line, allowing one worker to easily handle transport multiple carts of cargo.

Autonomous Moving Mode performs actual automated movement using a system called CarriRo Visual Tracking (patent pending), an image recognition technology based on ZMP Inc.’s previous automated driving projects, says Mr. Kasagi. Currently, the market already has automated transport machines that use line-based movement like AGV (automated guided vehicles) or SLAM (simultaneous localization and mapping). Line-based AGV uses magnetic tape to draw an orbit track along the movement route. This allows for stable transport, but it is difficult to change or adjust routes. SLAM uses laser sensors to map the environment. It is possible to to set a route through walk-along teaching, allowing for flexible operation. However, teaching can take time, and tracking can not compensate for small changes in the surrounding environment like location of products and shelves.

CarriRo Visual Tracking uses special QR code stickers called landmarks that are placed along the path of movement. CarriRo®AD drives over that path, using image recognition to correct its position and receive its next driving instructions. Repeating this process allows the cart to reach the goal with confidence. Clients can choose both semi-permanent or adjustable landmark stickers depending on their needs. Semi-permanent landmarks provide driving instructions in advance for environments with a fixed route, telling the cart to go straight, turn right, turn left, or do a U-turn. Adjustable landmarks provide immediate driving instructions for environments that change easily. Clients can use a Pippi tablet to scan and edit instructions and rearrange them freely. Stickers are placed within 10m of each other, and a whole route can easily be installed in 1-2 hours.

CarriRoAD in Autonomous Moving Mode drives automatically by reading landmark stickers along the route.

CarriRo® Options & Future Growth

CarriRo® can be modified with an optional trailer attachment. Roll cages and 6-wheel slim carts can be linked to CarriRo® easily using this attachment, which can be adjusted to match the size of the trailing cart. Up to 300kg can be transported using the towing function.
Patlamp dome light attachments flash when CarriRo® is moving to enhance operational safety. CarriRo® units can also make warning beeps to call attention to itself.

When asked about future developments, Mr. Kasagi says that usage of CarriRo® with trailer attachments is very common, so they are planning to make attachments to match some different carts that are used in warehouses of their long-term clients. In addition, because current models are designed for indoor use, they are also considering looking into development of outdoor models.

CarriRo® is currently available for lease or direct purchase. Leasing plans are 3 or 5 year contracts, but the monthly fee is kept low and affordable to support logistics workplaces that are reducing staff workload. Carts are already in use at over 100 companies, allowing staff to transport loads faster and more easily. Major companies report that leasing 10 carts saves them labor costs equivalent to 5 workers. This line of products is very welcome in an industry that is eager to reduce workload.

Interview Date: March 18, 2019

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"Robot of Everything" Under the mission of autonomous driving,creating a safe,enjoyable and convenient lifestyle for all kinds of people,we will continue to provide products and services that impress the world.​ ​

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