On 19 March 2020, unions said workers were demanding that Amazon takes their lives seriously. The night before a facility in Queens, NY, had been closed for deep cleaning after an employee tested positive for the virus. There are reports that some Amazon warehouse workers in Italy and Spain have tested positive. In France, several hundred Amazon workers protested to demand better measures to protect their safety. In Italy, there have been calls for a strike. This and similar developments once again bring into focus the motivation, and at times the imperative, to increase automation in the logistics and delivery chain.
IDTechEx have been examining the technological and commercial trends in this field for several years. Their report "Mobile Robots, Autonomous Vehicles, and Drones in Logistics, Warehousing, and Delivery 2020-2040" focuses on automation of movement in every step of the logistics and delivery chain ranging from a warehouse or a factory to the delivery of goods to the final customer destination. The emerging technology research firm finds that this market - in total - will reach $81 and $290 billion in 2030 and 2040, respectively. This is a colossal transfer of value from wage expenses to a combination of capital investments and service subscription to autonomous robots of various types. This staggering headline is, of course, very large, and hides the key individual trends characterizing each technology and use case. In the remainder of this article, IDTechEx analysts seek to highlight the key trends.
Goods-to-person automated carts/robots
Large fleets of robots are already deployed to help automate the goods-to-person step in many fulfilment centres. These robots move racks within robot-only zones, bringing them to manned picking stations. This is a fast-growing market space. The landscape was set on fire when Amazon acquired Kiva Systems for $775M in 2012, thereby leaving a gap on the market. Today, significant well-funded alternatives such as GeekPlus (389$M), GreyOrange (170$M), and HIK Vision ($6Bn revenue) have emerged, achieving promising and growing deployment figures. The number of start-ups has also increased, especially within the 2015-2017 period.
IDTechEx forecasts the annual unit sales to double within six years. Despite the large deployments already, they assess the real global inflection point to arrive around 2024 beyond at which point the pace of deployment will dramatically accelerate. Indeed, the research firm forecasts that between 2020 and 2030, more than 1 million such robots will be sold accumulatively. It is, therefore, an exciting time.