Fetch warehouse robots can work in pairs

The Fetch robot grabs inventory, while Freight carts it around warehouses before shipping

Fetch Robotics' new Fetch robot (rear) can autonomously grab inventory from shelves and place it into the Freight mobile bin robot (front). The machines are designed to work in warehouses filling e-commerce orders.

Fetch Robotics' new Fetch robot (rear) can autonomously grab inventory from shelves and place it into the Freight mobile bin robot (front). The machines are designed to work in warehouses filling e-commerce orders.

A California robotics startup is deploying a dual robot system to speed the delivery of goods purchased online.

San Jose-based Fetch Robotics on Wednesday unveiled Fetch, a mobile robot arm, and Freight, a mobile base that can carry a bin. They can work in warehouses and handle most kinds of merchandise.

The machines can work alongside human staff in filling repetitive pick-and-pack orders. They can also function together, with the Fetch robot grabbing inventory from shelves with its arm and packing it into the mobile bin before shipping.

Fetch and Freight run on the open-source Robot Operating System (ROS) and Intel CPUs. Both can autonomously recharge their 24V batteries at their charging docks. They also have laser scanners that can operate at a distance of 25 meters, and inertial measurement units to help navigate.

Equipped with a 3D camera in its head, Fetch can move its body up and down to get closer to merchandise. Its arm can move along seven axes of motion, with each joint measuring the amount of force it must exert to move objects. It has a lifting capacity of about 5.8 kilograms. Freight can carry up to 68kg and can work independently or in conjunction with Fetch.

Fetch Robotics sees opportunity in the increasing automation in warehouses, specially in e-commerce services such as Amazon Prime and Google Express that promise quick delivery.

Amazon has been expanding its fleet of Kiva mobile robots that carry large stacks of goods in its warehouses, bringing the total number of machines across the U.S. to over 15,000 before the 2014 holiday season.

"Because of the pressures of on-demand commerce, there is a critical need for warehouses and fulfillment centers to become more efficient," Fetch Robotics CEO Melonee Wise said via email. "We see our robots as a means to that end."

The price of the machines has yet to be decided, said Wise. Fetch bears strong resemblance to the US$50,000 UBR-1 education and research robot from Unbounded Robotics, which Wise led beforel its closure last year.

Fetch's new robots are slated to go on display at ICRA 2015, an IEEE Robotics and Automation Society conference in Seattle, Washington, in late May.

Tim Hornyak covers Japan and emerging technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Tim on Twitter at @robotopia.

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