WHERE HAVE ALL
THE WORKERS GONE?
Finding, training, retaining workers is the logistics industry’s greatest challenge. Keeping them available and injury free is challenge number two.
The industry is 750,000 workers short of the numbers needed for warehouses, manufacturing plants and similar facilities. Lifting, pushing, pulling heavy objects all day long is tough. People don’t — often can’t — make it a career. Turnover is massive. As a partial solution to the issue, corporations have had to make major investments in static, immobile, “dumb” robots at the end of each production line. That’s costly.
Black-I Robotics, which has been in the robotics business since 2008, developed a better answer. Black-I has introduced a revolutionary AI-based Fullscope Mobile Heavy Lift Arm that is being called the logistic industry’s “Holy Grail” because it resolves virtually all of the industry’s problems. The Fullscope arm replaces at least two worker shifts per 24 hours, reduces injuries and expensive worker compensation claims and eliminates a significant portion of capital now spent on stationary robots. One or two Black-I arms can replace a dozen or more fixed robots. Our robotic arm works atop an Automated Mobile Robot (AMR). The logistics industry has invested billions in AMRs; they move, and are strong, but limited. Our arm, equipped with state of the art vision, path planning and object avoidance, gives them the ability to move as needed throughout, say, a warehouse filled with fork lift vehicles, machines, boxes, pallets and, most importantly, people, and unerringly grasp items and place them exactly where needed.
Worker scarcity is the logistics industry’s worst nightmare. Black-I Robotics’ patented autonomous mobile robotic arm, which replaces a minimum of two workers per 24-hour shift, greatly enhances productivity and shop floor safety while significantly reducing workman compensation claims and expenditures on expensive, inflexible stationary robots. Return on investment is quick.
The intelligent, virtually human-like robotic arm and hand can save literally millions of dollars a year in labor and capital expenditures while dramatically increasing productivity.
CHECK OUT THE ARM IN ACTION
THE LOGISTICS INDUSTRY
Our Fullscope Mobile Heavy Lift Arm integrates a number of emerging technologies into a unique and powerful mobile arm that is revolutionizing the logistics industry. In fact, it’s safe to say it’s created a whole new category of smart, strong robotic arms.
Our AI-based system includes sophisticated software and multiple 2D and 3D cameras with live data streams that enable the robot to plan an optimum path to shelving, “see” and avoid any objects that may be in its way, and precisely pick, move and place designated items of all shapes and sizes — for example pallets — using standard or customized grippers. The savings in greatly enhanced productivity, avoiding injuries and worker compensation claims and reducing capital expenditures can easily run into the millions of dollars.
Black-I engineers, machine vision and control experts, software wizards and other innovative staff have worked for three years to turn what originally was a mobile robotic arm developed for the Defense Department’s elite technology agency into a revolutionary arm that many call the “Holy Grail” of the logistics industry. Not only does the arm function like a human’s, it provides Facility Managers a wide range of powerful tools they’ve never had before while offering AMR manufacturers and systems integrators the ability to provide their customers with high-value applications that will generate greater revenue opportunities for themselves.
Game Changer: Our robotic arm, which can lift twice comparable arms, is controlled by Facilities Managers and operations staff with little training required, and functions without alteration to existing infrastructure. The technology also incorporates a series of industry firsts; for example, a range of easy-to-use management tools, including a Management Dashboard that generates real-time feedback on critical performance criteria while automatically producing valuable reports. Facility Managers for the first time have full command over their environment!
Leveraging AMR Fleets: Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) are increasingly deployed in warehouses, manufacturing floors and similar facilities desperate for workers. However, they lack versatility, superior vision and other sophisticated traits; they can scoot along a warehouse floor carrying goods in bulk placed on them by workers, but that’s about it. Still, companies are investing in AMRs at an explosive pace — in 2017, AMR sales were $1 billion; in 2022, estimates are they reached $7 billion.
Our arm’s unique capabilities enables AMR manufacturers and systems integrators to leverage the fixed investment their customers have in their AMR fleets by offering a wide range of new value-added applications while generating more revenue for themselves. It’s win-win! Black-I’s mobile arm is available as an add-on kit that converts AMRs with 500KG capacity or higher into smart mobile “Robot Workers.” We’ve talked to a half dozen manufacturers and integrators excited about working with us.
THE ROBOT WORKER
Black-I Robotics, located in Tyngsborough, Massachusetts, was founded in 2008 by a team of experienced inventors, engineers, business visionaries and private investors, led by Brian Hart, CEO. Brian lost his 20-year-old son, an Army private, in action in Iraq in 2004. Brian left his job as CEO of a high-tech drug distribution company to become a Civilian Advocate, working with Senator Kennedy and others to better equip and safeguard our soldiers.
Tackling Worker Scarcity: Brian’s work included exploring how robots could protect the troops. He became a leading expert in the field of robotics, which led to the founding of Black-I, whose first product was a mobile robotic platform that among other functions could extricate wounded soldiers from the battlefield without endangering others. A follow on project for the Defense Department’s elite Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) was the development of a heavy lift arm that could replace and augment soldiers required to move heavy objects.
Brian and his team have gone on to develop a range of high tech products for numerous public, private and government organizations, focusing primarily on mobile robots and mobile robotic arms that improve labor availability and enhance productivity. The U.S. government, private companies such as Raytheon and universities such as Princeton and Carnegie Mellon have entrusted Black-I with a range of critical projects.
Black-I is acknowledged as one of the world’s most experienced companies for lifting large objects on mobile platforms, making us the perfect partner for companies looking to solve their labor problems and enhance their productivity, efficiency and the well being of their workers. More than a dozen companies -- most household names -- have expressed serious interest in the arm.
Installing Intelligence: As we transitioned the original smart, rugged arm designed for the government into the human-like arm for the logistics industry, we partnered with one of the world’s leading designers of software for human-centered vision-guided arm control and real-time learning, Ascend Robotics, which is located close to us in Cambridge, MA. Today, our Fullscope Mobile Heavy Lift Arm is being run through its paces at the country’s largest consumer products company and one of the world’s leading logistics firms, among other Fortune 50 companies.
PRODUCTIVITY = PROFITS
Robots have become indispensable, particularly over the past few years. Robots operate 24×7, don’t ask for raises or coffee breaks, and aren’t prone to injury.
Transitioning from the human workforce to the automated workforce has accelerated as interest rates spiked, inflation struck and profits fell.The new path to profitability is enhancing productivity. Black-I’s mobile arm replaces at least two worker shifts per 24 hours while lifting up to 100 pounds loads. Not only does it solve the issue of scarce labor, it frees corporations from investing in heavy, expensive immobile robots that function just a few hours a day at the end of each production line. The intelligent Fullscope mobile arm atop an AMR can move product, pallets, etc. from one point to another without human intervention.
A Complete System: The Fullscope system was designed from the ground up as a full turnkey solution. That’s in contrast to other robot manufacturers, who generally make arms with no end tooling, relying on others to develop grippers and other critical tools, write UI software for the arm, another for the mobile base, another for the cameras, and, finally, find a systems integrators to put all the pieces together. Our system comes complete. It is controlled and managed by in-house operations personnel, who can quickly reconfigure the system when changes are made to shelving, pallets, products, etc. There is no need to modify existing infrastructure to accommodate the robot
Black-I’s Fullscope system solves the issue of worker scarcity; work gets done by the arm faster and more accurately than a human worker could, if a human worker were available. The arm works in free space picking and placing objects of all sizes and configurations up to 100 pounds, eliminating the need for enormous -- and enormously expensive -- fixed robots at the end of a production line. It protects workers, eliminating the cost of most worker compensation claims. And its remarkable ROI is measured in just over two years.
Worker Compensation Costs: One example of where the Fullscope arm can save literally millions of dollars is eliminating injuries and expensive worker compensation claims because of its vision capabilities. OSHA estimates that a single fracture on a warehouse floor costs $54,856 in direct costs and $60,341 in indirect costs, or a total of $115,195, most of which could have dropped to the bottom line. That means that a company operating at a three percent profit margin would have to make an additional $2,011,360 in sales to cover the indirect costs and $3,839,900 to cover both direct and indirect costs. Wow!
Our Fullscope Mobile Heavy Lift Arm mounted on traditional AMRs enables users to:
THE BLACK-I DIFFERENCE
There’s a vast difference between Black-I’s Fullscope Mobile Heavy Lift Robot and other bots:
FROM THE GROUND UP: Integrating numerous technologies that “see” and “think” into a single but complex robot that automatically picks, lifts, maneuvers and places large objects is an enormous challenge. Our team — consisting of mechanical engineers, robotic control experts, vision and software specialists — started with a basic robotic arm that we developed for the Defense Department’s leading technology agencies, and then modified it specifically for the logistics industry. It’s taken three years of intensive work to develop the unique Fullscope arm, and we have been granted patents on the product and other intellectual property.
20-20 VISION: Warehouses, manufacturing floors, and similar workplaces are full of machines, shelving, boxes, cartons, instruments, pallets, and, most notably, people. Many factories use space, cameras, cages and other safeguards to protect their workers. Our goal at Black-I was to develop vision capabilities that eliminated the need for clumsy and expensive safeguards and help management optimize their infrastructure. As experts in machine vision, our team developed the critical “brains” of the coordinated control and task centered UI for the Fullscope arm. The result: a revolutionary configuration!
FITTING CUSTOMER INFRASTRUCTURE:From the start, our engineers insisted that our Fullscope arm had to fit into and work with a customer’s existing infrastructure, and adapt to any change in the infrastructure down the road. Our coordinated system control and task centered IU was designed specifically for Facilities Managers. It is easy to use, provides management autonomy and readily integrates with WMS and MES systems.
DATA AT YOUR FINGERTIPS!: Facilities Managers will be excited about many innovations represented by the Fullscope arm, but what they will find among the most valuable innovations is Black-I’s breakthrough Management Dashboard. The dashboard enables operations and facilities staff to view in real time a range of critical information — including system and performance data — collected by the arm, a first for most companies in the logistics industry.
Over the past 15 years, Black-I Robotics’ team has developed unmanned ground vehicles and other robots for the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security and a dozen universities, including work involving biologic and chemical agents. It has rolled out telehealth and tele-pharmacy related automation products in the U.S. and globally, and established service and support teams for technical implementation over a wide geographic area.
Brian Hart, Brian Hart, Founder, CEO and COB of Black-I Robotics, Inc, is one of the country’s foremost robotics experts. He originally developed robots for the Defense Department and other government agencies, and was involved with a dozen universities on a range of high tech projects. Prior to founding Black-I and a few years with the government, Brian was CEO of an automated drug distribution company that was acquired by AmerisourceBergen, He has been Assistant Treasurer of Boston University managing a portion of its private equity portfolio, and CFO of a regional wireless company in the Southwest. He has a BA and an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin. Brian is a member of the Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s Robotics Engineering Advisory Board, director of the Simon W. Robinson Masonic Angel Charitable Fund for Children, and a Family Advisory Board Member, Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund.
Paul Pescatore, CFO of Black-I Robotics for over a decade, was a senior executive vice president for finance and operations with a biotech company. He has held senior positions in technology, healthcare, medical equipment manufacturing and software firms. He is a graduate of Boston College and served with the U. S. Army in Europe.
Sean Sullivan, marketing consultant and investor, began his career as a journalist on daily newspapers on the East and West Coasts, including The Wall Street Journal. Sean spent 10 years with IBM in California and New York before serving as Vice President of Marketing for several computer hardware and software companies. He went on to found a variety of companies, including an airline, a medical device company and an advertising agency, the latter two of which were acquired by larger firms. Mr. Sullivan also served with the Peace Corps in Africa for five years. He is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and earned an M.S. from Fairfield University. He has been involved with Black-I Robotics since 2008.
Amy Yin, Co-founder, VP of Engineering, Ascend Robotics, led the effort to develop the core coordinated system control and the task centered UI for the Black-I Fullscope mobile arm. The system is designed specifically for Facilities Managers, with focus on ease of operation, autonomy, and ready integration with WMS and MES systems. Amy also leads development of the breakthrough Management Dashboard for Black-I’s robots. Previously, Amy led teams at Charles River Development, delivering multiple products (Enterprise Data Management, Data Integrations) from conception through multiple releases for Wall Street customers, and an early-stage distributed cloud storage startup. Earlier, Amy managed award-winning technology development and AI applications for a leading machine vision company. She holds an MS and Ph.D in Mechanical Engineering with focus on Human-Machine Systems from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
David Askey is the co-founder and CEO of Ascend Robotics. David and his team tailored Ascend’s world-class parts handling robot systems to the needs of Black-I’s customer base within the warehouse and manufacturing industries. The system retrieves components, provides production line supply, and automates kitting. Ascend’s AI and robotics technologies also have been deployed in the construction space, including robot control and perception for autonomous painting of buildings and infrastructure structures. David, who has extensive experience in AI, perception, and robotics, has held senior positions managing engineering teams, leading technology strategy, and directing R&D at technology and imaging companies both in the U.S. and Europe. David has B.S. and M.S. degrees in Electrical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Q & A
Black-I Robotics CEO Brian Hart recently answered questions about how and why he founded the company and what the future holds.
A. Remarkable. Though we have been developing robots, including robotic arms, for many years, it’s been only a year since we entered the commercial market. Already we have forged deep relationships with the country’s largest consumer goods company, one of Europe’s largest consumer goods companies, and one of the country’s largest supply chain transportation companies. We’ve also had many other Fortune 100 corporations express serious interest In our product. They understand that our mobile arm is unique; that there is nothing like it on the market. Each of these companies has serious manpower shortages. They have seen our arm in action and believe it will solve their labor issues, enhance the efficiency of their operations, reduce their capital expenditures and make their workplaces safer. Once our testing is complete, we expect orders. Lots of orders.
A. Demand for technology solutions to organizational problems is nothing new, but the Covid pandemic accelerated the need. Corporations — particularly those in the logistics business — face a severe shortage of workers. That’s compounded by the difficulties that workers face on the job — injuries! It’s tough work pushing, pulling, lifting heavy boxes, cartons, pallets day in, day out. Our robotic arm resolves those problems, and then some. We’re the perfect fit for repetitive jobs that call for muscle every minute of the day. Robots are more economical than human workers, don’t ask for raises, don’t get injured, and are available 24×7.
A. Ascend Robotics is a world leader in robotic arm software controls and user interfaces. We partnered with them to accelerate time to market for the Fullscope product. Founders David Askey and Amy Yin, both out of MIT, have in their 20 years in the business pushed the boundaries of robotics applications, including AI and machine vision, which are critical — and unique — to our Fullscope arm. Ascend has enabled us to deliver a range of applications that the logistics industry has wanted for years, including a Management Dashboard that offers visibility into the performance of a firm’s workforce, among others of high value. When we say our Fullscope Mobile Heavy Lift Arm is revolutionary, we do not exaggerate.
A. This is the perfect environment for Black-I and other companies that enable their customers to become more efficient. The days of easy money, low interest rates and a compliant Federal Reserve that led to record corporate profits the past 12 years are over. Corporations understand now that the path to higher profits is through increases in productivity. Helping companies become more efficient, more profitable is Black-I’s mission.
A. Our proprietary arm’s payload is two times other arms. It was designed specifically for the logistics industry, integrating new and powerful technologies that keep operating costs low and productivity values high. Its exceptional vision capabilities enable it to move around a very busy workplace without banging into shelves, machinery, and, best of all, humans. It can reach high and low, our customized grippers lifting objects of different weights and shapes, placing them precisely where needed. If things change on the factory floor or on the shelves, the typical stationary arm needs to be taken off line or moved, with costly infrastructure changes. That’s expensive, and a blow to operations. Our arm is vastly more flexible and inherently mobile, and will easily save our customers millions of dollars a year — and lots of headaches!
Yes, our arm can be mounted on a wide variety of chassis, including AMRs and AGVs. The entire supply chain, particularly warehousing and manufacturing facilities, increasingly are incorporating AMRs into their operations, and we anticipate they’ll drive new revenue opportunities for AMR vendors integrating our arm. My thought is, if we autonomously pick and palletize with a mobile unit and add it to automated warehouse systems (AWS), it is possible to fully automate door to door logistics. The labor issue plaguing the supply chain, including huge variations in seasonal demand and customer expectations for faster, cheaper delivery, will only make the problem worse. We are the solution.
A. Absolutely. We designed our arm from the start to readily fit on a wide range of available AMRs with 500 kg payload capacity or higher. AMR companies and systems integrators are teaming up with us because they understand that adding a versatile, safe heavy lift arm to their platform greatly expands their revenue opportunities. We’re their perfect partner.