This boring robot world record tells us a lot about the future of commerce

A team of automation partners joined forces to set a niche record at the supply chain industry's biggest event in the Americas
Written by Greg Nichols, Contributing Writer on

RightHand Robotics, which makes software and intelligent grippers for piece-picking robots used in the supply chain industry, just helped set a world record that probably didn't have you on the edge of your seat.

Robot workstations equipped with the company's technology successfully picked up and placed 131,072 items over the duration of this year's MODEX show, the supply chain industry's largest event in North and South America.


Even if you don't care how many times a team of small industrial robots can pick up and put down various objects during a trade show, the results speak to broader trends in automation that amount to a veritable revolution in how global commerce functions.

Indeed, this year's MODEX was all about the robots. The industry has been racing to fill the hole left after Amazon acquired fulfillment automation leader Kiva in 2012. It's safe to say a new generation of flexible automation solutions for fulfillment and logistics has more than made up the lost ground.

Virtually everything you order online passes through the mechanical end effectors of a pick and place robot or is shuttled along part of its journey by an autonomous cart.

Even a couple years ago that wasn't the case. New task-agnostic automation solutions from startups like Fetch and RightHand have enabled fulfillment centers to plug automation into existing lines without significant downtime or reconfiguration.

RightHand's MODEX record is a good indicator of just how plug-and-play warehouse automation has become.

Employing collaborative robots from Universal Robots and mobile platforms from partner companies, RightHand's work cells were able to pick and place up to 1,000 units per hour, including products the system had never seen before.

"We wanted to set a benchmark for piece-picking performance, and the show was a fantastic opportunity for it," said Yaro Tenzer, co-founder of RightHand Robotics. "Our robots handle a wide range of everyday items at high throughput rates, delivering the reliability required by our customers, and sharing the final results from our MODEX fleet is a fun way to illustrate this point."

If you're not a roboticist, a robot handling various items it's never seen before may not seem like a big deal. But gripping objects that aren't uniform in size and shape is tremendously complex. There's a whole field in robotics devoted to gripping strategies.

That off-the-shelf solutions now allow even small operations to introduce automation with no special programming is remarkable, and certainly an indication we're at the beginning of a rapid adoption phase for automation in industries related to e-commerce--which of course is becoming an increasingly large portion of global commerce in general.

The record may be boring, but the implications are monumental.

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