Robotics Glossary: a Guide to Terms and Technologies
If you are wondering what investing in robotics and automation can do to improve your warehouse operations, but find yourself getting lost in a maze of buzzwords and acronyms, we’re here to help. We’ve compiled a running list that explains what many of the terms related to robotics, automation and fulfillment mean, so you can better understand the benefits of these technologies and make an informed decision about what system is right for you.
3PL is short for Third-Party Logistics. A 3PL provider is used by an e-commerce business to outsource part or all of its distribution and fulfillment services. One example of a 3PL is Rakuten Super Logistics, which has deployed inVia Robotic’s picking robots across its fulfillment network.
AGV stands for Automated Guided Vehicle. AGVs are used to transport heavy items such as stacks of pallets, rolls of paper or metal, and auto parts along a defined route in a factory or warehouse.
AMR is short for Autonomous Mobile Robot. AMRs use technologies like advanced sensors, computer vision, and machine learning to navigate a warehouse, avoid obstacles and deliver items to a picking station.
AMMR stands for Autonomous Mobile Manipulator Robot. It’s the kind of robot we design and build here at inVia. AMMRs combine the autonomy of an AMR with the ability to manipulate goods on a shelf and bring them to the pick station. This significantly cuts down one of the biggest expenses incurred by fulfillment centers: walking time.
AS/RS is short for Automated Storage and Retrieval System. These systems are designed to automatically place and retrieve items from defined storage locations in a warehouse.
Automation is the technology by which a process or task is performed with no assistance from a person. Automation can refer to machines like robots or programs that carry out repetitive tasks in software applications (see RPA below).
Many people use the terms "autonomous" and "automated" interchangeably, but automated machines perform specific tasks within pre-defined parameters, while autonomous machines learn and adapt to dynamic environments.
Cobot is short for Collaborative Robot. A cobot is a robot intended to physically interact with people in a shared workspace.
Cycle counting is a procedure where a small section of warehouse inventory in one area is counted at a specific time to forecast the total amount of inventory of that item.
DC stands for Distribution Center. While many use the terms "warehouse" and "distribution center" interchangeably, a traditional warehouse is for stockpiling inventory, while a distribution center stores products for shorter periods of time and offers services like order fulfillment and packaging.
Degrees of Freedom
A degree of freedom refers to a thing’s ability to move in a single independent direction of motion. Moving forward & backward is one degree, moving right & left is another, and up & down is another.
An end effector is a device at the end of a robotic arm, designed to interact with the environment, such as our patented suction picker.
ERP stands for Enterprise Resource Planning. The term typically refers to a suite of integrated software applications that companies use to manage day-to-day business processes, such as accounting, HR, project management and supply chain operations.
A fiducial (or fiducial marker) is a point of reference. They are part of the system we use in warehouses to ensure inVia's robots locate and retrieve items quickly. They also facilitate our robots' ability to navigate using machine vision, which lets them work completely autonomously.
FMCG is short for fast-moving consumer goods. They are products that are sold quickly and at a relatively low cost. Online dollar store Hollar uses inVia's RaaS system to quickly shift its inventory to match seasonal trends.
GTP (or G2P)
GTP stands for Goods to Person. It’s a method of order fulfillment utilizing an automated storage and retrieval system (fixed conveyors or autonomous mobile robots) to deliver SKUs to a pick station.
Industry 4.0 refers to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which is being driven by technological breakthroughs in fields such as quantum computing, biotechnology, autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence, and robotics.
The Knapsack Problem is an optimization problem that is centered around finding the most desirable combination of items—each with its own weight and dollar value—that will fit inside a container and not exceed a weight limit. The goal is to load the most value into the knapsack. The Knapsack Problem belongs to a class of problems known to mathematicians as NP-Complete, meaning that no efficient algorithmic solution has been identified. The best we can hope for is an approximate solution that will be reasonably close.
LMS is short for Labor Management System. LMS software monitors employee activity and reports productivity levels. It helps warehouse managers track workers’ performance and allocate resources accordingly. An LMS can also provide incentive-based tracking and analytics to award performance-based bonuses.
LIDAR is short for Light Detection and Ranging. It’s a 3D mapping technology that uses pulses of laser light to measure distances. If you’ve ever seen an autonomous car, it’s that thing on the roof.
Localization is the process of determining where a mobile robot is located with respect to its environment. It's how robots navigate autonomously throughout a warehouse picking items.
Machine learning is the science of getting computers to act without being explicitly programmed. It’s a branch of artificial intelligence based on the idea that systems can learn from data, identify patterns and make decisions with minimal human intervention.
Machine vision is the use of a camera (or cameras), computer hardware and software algorithms to automate visual inspection tasks or to precisely guide equipment such as autonomous mobile robots.
Motion planning is the use of algorithms to determine the sequence of moves that enable an autonomous mobile robot to travel to a distant waypoint inside a warehouse without running into walls or shelving units.
Orders, Lines & Units
-An order is the shopping cart filled with items a customer purchases.
-Lines are the different items within the order.
-Units are the quantity of each line.
OMS stands for Order Management System. At the fundamental level, an order management system is software used for order entry and processing. In broader terms, an OMS tracks orders, sales, inventory, and fulfillment operations—every process needed to get products to the customers that bought them.
In an e-commerce order fulfillment warehouse, picking is the process of gathering the items in a customer’s order. There are several strategies to maximize efficiency, including batch, wave, and zone picking.
Pick-to-Light is an e-commerce order fulfillment method that uses light modules mounted on shelves or racks to guide pickers to the product locations and quantities needed to fill orders.
A put wall looks like a large shelf unit that’s divided into slots. Each slot is assigned an order. Pickers retrieve items for the order from the warehouse and put them in the slot. When all the items in the order are in the slot, they’re boxed and shipped.
Replenishment is the process of moving items (SKUs) from storage to picking locations. When inventory falls to minimum pre-defined levels, inVia’s Robotics Management System (RMS) directs automated robots to deliver those totes to the replenishment station. The totes are then refilled, and the robots return them to their places in the picking path.
Customers return items, and processing those returns can be costly. Return rates for online purchases are around 30%, with clothing returns closer to 40%. inVia's robots can manage the flow of returning products to the warehouse. They carry them back to the right location, and our RMS updates inventory data to ensure all products are accurately accounted for.
RFID is short for Radio-frequency identification. RFID uses electromagnetic fields to automatically identify and track tags attached to objects, like totes, boxes or individual items in a warehouse, providing real-time updates of inventory.
A robot is a machine—especially one programmable by a computer— capable of carrying out a complex series of actions automatically. Robots can be guided by an external control device or the control may be embedded within. Robots may be constructed on the lines of human form, but most robots are machines designed to perform a task with no regard to their aesthetics.
Robotics is the branch of technology that deals with the design, construction, operation, and application of robots, as well as computer systems for their control, sensory feedback, and information processing. These technologies deal with automated machines that can take the place of humans in dangerous environments or manufacturing processes. (see The 3 Ds of Robotics below)
ROC stands for Robotics Operations Center. We staff our ROC at inVia Robotics HQ with a team of robotics technicians to monitor your inVia system 24/7. We identify any potential issues before they become problems and can make adjustments to robots mid-fulfillment to prevent disruptions.
RPA stands for Robotic Process Automation. RPA has nothing to do with physical robots. Instead, RPA is a way to automate business processes by creating software “robots” to perform the tedious tasks that people get stuck doing instead of spending their time focusing on more meaningful work.
SLAM is short for Simultaneous Localization and Mapping. SLAM algorithms allow things like autonomous mobile robots and self-driving cars to map their environment and determine their location within it.
The 3 Ds of Robotics
The 3 Ds of robotics are dull, dirty, and dangerous. Those are the 3 types of jobs that no person wants to do, but they still need to be done.
Transfer learning is the process of taking what an algorithm has learned in one context and applying it in another. It could be used to teach cheap robots to perform as well as expensive ones.
Traveling Salesman Problem
The Traveling Salesman Problem (or TSP) is a classic algorithmic problem in the field of computer science that’s focused on optimization. The TSP asks the question: “If you have a list of cities you need to visit, and the cities are different distances from one other, what‘s the shortest possible route that will take you to each city and get you back to your point of origin?” The TSP belongs to a class of problems known to mathematicians as NP-Complete, meaning that no efficient algorithmic solution has been identified. The best we can hope for is an approximate solution that will not be optimal but will be reasonably close. Solving it could change everything from e-commerce to encryption.
When a customer’s order is incomplete or contains incorrect or duplicate items, the process of fixing it is known as triage. The triage area is like the ER of a fulfillment warehouse—it’s where orders go to get repaired.
UPH stands for units per hour and is a standard metric of throughput. An online order is comprised of different items (lines), and the quantity of each item (units). An order of 3 hats and 5 shirts is 2 lines and 8 units.
Velocity slotting is the practice of placing the most frequently ordered items in the most accessible locations—or slots—in the warehouse to reduce walking time and speed order fulfillment.
Visual servoing, also known as vision-based robot control, is a technique which uses feedback information extracted from a vision sensor to control the motion of a robot.
Wall of Shame
When items are returned to a retailer's warehouse, they often wind up in a place known as the "Wall of Shame." That's where items sit in limbo on shelves because it's too difficult and expensive to process them back into inventory.
WES is short for Warehouse Execution System. WES software organizes, sequences and synchronizes the resources necessary to complete the shipment of products. A WES is a hybrid system that combines specific warehouse management system (WMS) functionality with warehouse control system (WCS) functionality to track and control processes in real-time.
WMS stands for Warehouse Management System. It’s a software application that’s designed to manage the day-to-day operations of a warehouse or distribution center, including receiving inventory, storage, picking, packing, shipping and replenishment.
*New terms will be added on a regular basis.