Saturday, December 31, 2016

Automated delivery bots still learning how to mangle packages


FRANKLIN, DE - Delivery services such as FedEx and UPS still rely on human employees to get packages where they're going, but eventually most jobs like this will be phased out by automation.

One key factor holding back the revolution is that the robots haven't quite perfected the art of twisting, crushing, folding and spindling parcels then throwing them at the front porch.

"It seems like a straightforward thing, deforming a box and flinging it in the direction of the right address," said automation expert Rudy Bering. "The problem is that you have so many different sizes and densities of boxes and envelopes."

We take it for granted that a person can size up a package and figure out immediately where and how to defeat its structural integrity. A robot, however, has a difficult time discerning the subtle differences between, say, a laptop ensconced in styrofoam and a rare book with protective wrapping.

"Sure, we could just apply the same vise grip approach to everything," said Bering. "But that leaves us with a kind of uniformity that is unsatisfying. A human knows instinctively where the screen is, where the brittle corners are, which part to get wet but leave the shape roughly intact."

Artificial intelligence training is underway to prepare tomorrow's delivery bots to replace today's delivery personnel. "The software is already good at reading 'Fragile' in any language and singling out that box for enhanced treatment."

Bering is in negotiations with airlines to automate the baggage handling process.
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