Sorting Center Innovation of the Year: Autonomous Sorting, Swiss Post and Unmanned Life

Mobile robots assist workers in parcel sortation,
improving sorting efficiency

Unmanned Life and Swiss Post worked together between March and July 2018 to test a new autonomous sorting solution in a real-life environment. The solution used AI software to perform sortation by utilizing fleets of autonomous mobile robots. This was all controlled through one single interface. The robots executed sorting activities, from input gates (unsorted) to output gates (sorted) controlled by Unmanned Life.

All data was captured and collected and then processed by the Unmanned Life platform. It was then integrated with the customer’s information management system. The sorting solution is easily scalable as robots can be added or removed depending on demand. The platform also integrates with existing or new scanning solutions. “The idea was to use these autonomous robot fleets instead of traditional conveyor belt technology, as they have the advantage of being totally flexible,” says Nicholas Zylberglajt, founder and COO of Unmanned Life. “With this technology, a sorting center can be automated in less than two months. The objective of the Swiss Post project was to test its feasibility and business case. Now, it has been successfully proven and has even exceeded expectations.

“We have finished the innovation stage and will now start the next step, proof of concept (PoC), based on key learnings and improvements,” Zylberglajt adds.

The autonomous sorting system is asset-light, flexible and mobile, can be set up in any warehouse or center, and is moveable. The solution is integrated with enterprise business information systems and AI stacks to enable an end-to-end modular and scalable system. Posts can boost capacity by adding robots on demand and change input or output directions at will without the need to deploy further infrastructure, making it an adaptable solution for any logistical operation.

“The PoC was 465 parcels an hour in a sorting area of less than 100m2 (1,076ft2), which can easily be scaled up to a throughput of 10,000 parcels per hour,” adds Zylberglajt. “This asset-light autonomous sorting solution can provide significant savings to sorting centers.”

Swiss Post plans to roll out the solution on a wider scale, providing it reaches all the agreed milestones. The post has internal processes that will ask for suppliers’ inclusion when procurements are released.

“In less than three months, any post can automate a new or existing sorting center,” comments Zylberglajt. “They can even use this technology to automate one sorting center and then move to another facility and bring the technology with them. Operators can add capacity as their volumes grow, or during the peak seasons that we know are a headache for any operations director.”

In the hyper-connected, globalized and competitive environment of today, Zylberglajt believes distributors need to rethink their warehouses, and Unmanned Life’s autonomous sorting solution is affordable and easy to integrate. “Our solution is providing a concrete tested and proven answer to e-commerce logistics challenges,” he says. “If consumers want fast and free delivery and the ability to shop at any time of the year and the day, somebody needs to bear these costs. Traditional solutions do not work anymore.

“The system collaborates with humans without any risk. There are still human workers needed to load and unload the parcels, but their jobs are vastly improved and they safely and simply work alongside the autonomous robots.”

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Also shortlisted:

  • T-Sort portable, Tompkins Robotics
  • Butler PickPal, GreyOrange
  • Automatic warehouse inventory, Geodis
  • SortEngine 360, BlueCrest