Category Archives: Financial Trends

Cyber Monday gets a Boost from Robots and Drones

Delivery Drone Free PhotoUPS and FedEx both report that they anticipate delivering close to 1 billion packages in the next few weeks.  JUST in the United States alone. That’s a 10 percent more than 2014, and shows just how much more Americans consume.

The computer gurus at ZDNET say robots will play a huge role in fulfilling all those holiday orders:

Moving that much merch quickly and accurately would be impossible without the recent automation revolution in the logistics industry. Robotics technology developed by Kiva has enabled Amazon to fulfill orders same-day in many locations. Though human workers still play a vital (albeit controversial, according to recent reports) role in the picking, packing, and palletizing that go into dispatching goods to your doorstep, there can be no question that we’re getting ever-closer to a so-called lights-out shipping warehouse, one in which all the workers are robots.

One recent automation breakthrough (or job casualties, depending on your slant) is vision guided vehicles (VGV).

robotic-truck-2.jpg

“Our robots run quite nicely in parallel with humans,” said Jim Rock, CEO of Seegrid, the biggest supplier of vision-guided vehicles to industry. “We can show up, drop off one of our robots, and in a few minutes it will be moving around a warehouse without any need for additional infrastructure.”

The working around humans part is important. Temporarily, at least, we’re in a transition period during which humans and robots will work side by side at the fulfillment centers responsible for delivering your last-minute Christmas shopping. Speed is critical, but so is safety, which is why autonomous robots with 3D vision are such a promising development.

Seegrid’s autonomous forklifts zip around carrying heavy pallets crammed with goods from trucking bays to robotic workstations, where the merchandise will be sorted for delivery. They can do this quickly and with far greater safety than human-operated forklifts, which are a menace to worker safety. According to Tools Of The Trade, there are 110,000 forklift accidents in the US every year and more than 100 deaths.

Seegrid’s autonomous vehicles rely on the convergence of two technologies: 3D sensing, which has become affordable in the last few years thanks to cheap cameras and increasing computing power, and evidence grid mapping, a newer strategy that enables autonomous navigation on the fly. Instead of registering objects, which is difficult to do in real time, robotic systems using evidence grid maps accumulate occupancy evidence for an array of spatial locations, slowly resolving ambiguities as the robot moves. (If you yearn for a more detailed explanation, check out this seminal paper, which introduced the idea to the world.)

“We’re buying very inexpensive cameras off the shelf,” says Rock. “That’s the least interesting part of what we do. It’s the evidence grid that’s very very complicated and that frankly took our engineering team decades to work out.”

Read the rest here

Is the Corporate Communications paradigm shifting?

corporate communications free use photoLike just about every corporate sacred cow, the idea of companies always needing a corporate communications department has been questioned – and re-thought. One reason might be headcount, another might be social media trends. But Wendy Marx over at Fast Company says the rules are changing because the challenges communicators face are very different than they were a decade ago:

To put it bluntly, corporate communications is the spurned stepchild of the C-suite. In many organizations, the function hardly gets the attention it deserves until the moment crisis hits. But undervaluing the importance of powerful communication is a mistake, and it’s costing some companies dearly.

“Like many other soft skills, [communication] is undervalued in corporations because it’s difficult to measure,” says Dorie Clark, author and adjunct professor of business administration at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. The skill “requires a high tolerance of ambiguity, contradiction, and subtlety (i.e., softness),” communications expert Walter G. Montgomery writes on Knowledge@Wharton, and many senior leaders prefer to reserve that kind of thinking for strategy decisions. And it doesn’t help that business schools tend to squeeze corporate communications in among heavy-duty statistics and accounting courses, even though it encompasses everything from media and community relations to internal and investor relations as well.

The truth is that the way an organization communicates can be the difference between success and failure. By now, we’re already familiar with the damage an out-of-place tweet by a CEO can do in the age of social media.

Managers need exposure to communications, especially now,” Tim Andree, executive chairman of Dentsu Aegis Network, “The communications model changes every six to seven months. There’s media convergence, new technology, and new analytics. It affects how you need to communicate and how people get their information.”

Read the entire article here.