This Warehouse Robot Has 2 Arms, Works Twice as Fast

Hitachi unveils a new two-armed robot for fetching stock.

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Aug 26 2015, 12:45pm

Image: Bloomberg/Getty

In 16th century Japan, Miyamoto Musashi made his name as a famous swordsman by deftly battling his foe with swords in both hands. Now, following in his footsteps—and switching swords with automated parts—comes Hitachi's two-armed warehouse robot.

Hitachi, a Japanese multinational tech company, announced Tuesday that it's developing its super-speedy and dexterous two-armed robot for use in the many warehouses that are popping up in Japan due to greater consumer demand. Speedy two-armed robots are pretty novel when it comes to industry, with twice as many limbs as most existing comparable robots.

According to Hitachi's press release, the robot—which runs on wheels—"can pull things out with two arms, just like a human," use a camera to recognize objects on the move and from a distance of one meter, and reach into boxes 30cm deep to pull out objects that weigh up to one kilogram.

Hitachi plans to make the robot commercially available within the next five years. The aim is to streamline the warehouse fetch-and-stock procedure from factory to container ship—freeing up humans in Japan from repetitive labor in the process.

It cuts the speed with which it picks up packages from seven seconds to three seconds.

While Hitachi points out that factories such as Amazon have already begun to use similar robots, the company says there are still limitations on the kinds of tasks these robots can perform.

Its robot's height can be adjusted to match different shelf heights, it can transport objects of varying size and weight with its two arms, and its dexterous motions afford it better coordination. This cuts the speed with which it goes to pick up packages from seven seconds (time taken by existing warehouse robots) to a lightning-paced three seconds.

With the recent revelations of Amazon's shocking employee conditions, it might not be such a bad idea for robots to take over some of the more repetitive and backbreaking tasks that humans currently do. Perhaps they won't be stealing our jobs after all, but rather encouraging other industries to create more creative jobs that only humans can do.

Cool Japan is a column about the quirky and serious happenings in the Japanese scientific, technological and cultural realms. It covers the unknown, the mainstream, and the otherwise interesting developments in Japan.