Fetch Robotics, a cloud robotics and on-demand automation company, announced a new drag-and-drop development toolkit on March 2. The toolkit allows customers to implement flexible automation in existing warehouse facilities – without third-party assistance.
"With Workflow Builder, we're making a big step of allowing customers to tell robots what they want them to do, without needing to be trained in robotics, without actually needing programming skills," Stefan Nusser, vice president of product at Fetch Robotics, told FreightWaves.
Founded in 2014, San Jose, California-based Fetch develops autonomous robots that operate among humans in locations such as warehouses, factories and distribution centers. The company offers a "robot-as-a-service" model, allowing customers to lease – not buy – the devices through a cloud-based subscription service.
Used in tandem with the robots, the Workflow Builder tool offers an on-demand alternative to fixed warehouse automation solutions or traditional autonomous mobile robot solutions, Nusser said.
Both of these tend to be expensive and time-consuming, he explained, and often lead to workflows that can't be updated or changed without extensive outside support.
Workflow Builder, by contrast, is a simple intuitive tool based on Blockly, the language used to teach non-programmers to code, and "very flexibly allows customers to set up the workflow they want the robots to perform."
Workflow Builder is designed for people who don't know how to code (Image: Fetch Robotics)
It not only allows operators to program where the robots need to go but also allows it to perform other tasks, such as turning the conveyor on and off and negotiating exceptions, the places where things "get really tricky," Nusser said.
For example, if the robot's path was blocked by a forklift, the operator can express in the work instructions a designated place for the robot to stop. The instructions would also trigger an email to an operator who would manually fix the remedy.
Complementing Fetch's robot-as-a-service model, Workflow allows companies to scale easily, changing processes as the fleet size changes "since you are doing this in-house," Nusser explained.
Fetch joins other startups such as Geek+ and 6 River Systems in catering to fast-growing ecommerce industrial customers that require the speed and efficiency of automation.