At the first annual public session of the re:MARS conference in Las Vegas, Plus One Robotics CEO Erik Nieves presented his vision for cognitive collaboration as the enabling technology for widespread adoption of robotics in e-commerce. Just as people divide up tasks based on capabilities, roles in the warehouse will be defined by the strengths each worker brings to the job. Robots offer power, speed, repeatability and endurance. But they are narrowly intelligent at best and unable to cope with the unpredictable. People–with their abilities to perceive the world, think and make decisions–will supply what robots lack. Collaborating cognitively, people and robots will be able to address inherently variable tasks, like those found in e-commerce and beyond.
A robot in a fulfillment center regularly faces unexpected situations. For example, something as simple as a change in an item’s packaging can confound a robot. When this happens, a typical robot will stop work, unable to continue, unable to reach out for help. This is what cognitive collaboration will change. When the new, shiny polybag rolls down the conveyor belt for the first time, a confused robot will be able to signal a human worker. By connecting to that robot’s 3D vision system, the human can remotely view the situation and provide direction. Working together, the human and robot will exchange information to solve the problem. This type of cognitive collaboration will enable human workers to multiply their productivity: a single worker will be able to supervise a fleet of robots. And the ability to collaborate cognitively over distance will give human workers the option of working first shift while the robots labor around the clock, meeting the demands of e-commerce. Check out video of the full presentation below: