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This blog post was written by IAM Robotics Founder and CTO, Tom Galluzzo, and originally appeared on Tom’s LinkedIn page.

Every so often a big event comes around that changes the world almost overnight. These paradigm shifts in what we’ve come to expect as “normal” happen when the world collectively decides that something needs to improve. Here is a good example: remember going through airport security before 9/11? Then, all of a sudden it changed forever and for good reason.

COVID-19 is a terrible thing. It has shown us that we need to be more prepared for future pandemics in a lot of different ways. As a result, some things are inevitably going to change, and they will change forever. This is what we call a new normal, and to be frank, we need these new norms to fix some big problems. 

Right now, thousands of workers in the supply chain and retail industries are putting themselves at risk to the coronavirus so essential businesses can remain open. Why should workers in the supply chain, retail, or even fast food service have to expose themselves to a deadly disease so the rest of us can stay home? This fact has caused a lot of warehouse workers serious concern in recent months. We should be thankful and supportive of them.

Of course, we’re biased here at IAM Robotics, but we think robots are the perfect way to make our supply chains more robust to pandemics. Like it or not, we need automation and robots to help us through times like these. We need machines to help with this kind of dull, dirty and dangerous work, so people are less vulnerable to disease and injury. I never considered warehouse work particularly dirty or dangerous before, but now I think differently. One of the key lessons learned during this pandemic is that humans in the supply chain have become a major point of risk. Risk that they can catch, transmit and prolong the virus. Businesses must mitigate this by investing in automation that reduces the risk to humans.

Our robots are especially good at e-commerce. COVID-19 has taught us that e-commerce is  vitally important during an outbreak. It keeps people from exposing themselves to illness and reduces people from spreading the disease by meeting in public places like stores and restaurants. Ironically, that means e-commerce workers are in higher demand now, and unfortunately have to bear an even greater risk during this crisis. Robots can help by dramatically reducing their physical workload as well as reducing the need for their physical presence and exposure to illness. 

Warehouse and order fulfillment workers, the folks who find and grab the items you buy online, spend the vast majority of their time walking and touching products. Some of them need to walk up to 15 miles a day within the aisles of a warehouse. Imagine a warehouse with 100 people picking e-commerce orders, each one walking around and passing by each other as they seek out and physically handle products. If one of them comes to work sick (even asymptomatic and unknowingly sick), they potentially expose dozens, if not the majority, of other workers. The same is true for a retail worker walking through the aisles of a store, potentially exposing other employees and even customers. Within a few workdays, a large number of employees could be sick and result in dramatically reduced capacity for the business to meet demand. This scenario has already happened to real businesses.

Now imagine a warehouse where all of the walking is reduced or eliminated by using robots that can navigate the aisles and pick products. The robots bring products to workers, where the items are sorted, packed into individual orders, and then shipped out to consumers. At the same time, other workers can guide, teach, and support  the robots remotely, working from home via the internet. Does that sound like science fiction? It’s actually already happening with robots like ours and others. Robots are quickly becoming a new norm for retail and supply chain businesses. The COVID-19 crisis is inspiring more and more business leaders to take a serious look at robots and how they can help keep supply chains robust and efficient, while reducing risk during pandemics and other challenging times. 

IAM Robotics is known for being a leading innovator in the world of robotics. We are the first company in history to actually deploy Autonomous Mobile Manipulation Robots (AMMRs). Our robots can navigate and pick items reliably and consistently. We’ve invented new techniques and algorithms that enable our robots to travel, see, and manipulate things autonomously. Now we want to help you and your businesses build automation solutions that work for the future. As the world is entering this new normal, please get in touch with us to discuss what might be possible.

We’re actively seeking partnerships for the next generation of robotics innovation. Click here to see a list of our existing partners and learn more.

Stay safe!

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info@iamrobotics.com | 412.626.7425