Contact Us

Google's Parent Company Designing Automated Warehouse Technology

A sample image from X Development's patent application for a robotic pallet-moving system.

A sister company of Google has new ideas about how to automate distribution centers.

X Development, the experiment and idea-focused subsidiary of Google parent Alphabet Inc., filed two patent applications at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in the past week, Supply Chain Dive reports. Both applications describe robots designed to analyze the position of items in a warehouse and, if need be, rearrange them to maximize storage space.

One application, filed on Jan. 2, is for a group of robots controlled by a central processing system that tracks how many of an item is on each pallet in a distribution center. If the system finds one or more pallets of an item that can be consolidated, then one or more robots would move those items and the associated pallets around to stack them and free up space.

The central processing system would receive information on its pallets from any of a long list of sensors or camera systems listed on the application. Further uses for the technology could include moving items from one truck docked at a warehouse to another, without restocking them inside the warehouse.

An image from X Development's patent application for a robotic system for identifying and moving misplaced inventory in a warehouse.

The other application, filed on Dec. 31, describes a camera-based system that would intake information about where individual items should be stocked in a distribution center, locate those items anywhere in the center and "take the appropriate action" if a discrepancy is located. A robot equipped with cameras and a picking arm could move about the warehouse to complete actions like moving an improperly stocked item.

X Development allowed in its applications for the possibility that either or both technologies could be used in a fully automated warehouse, or one where robots work alongside humans. Both robots detailed in the applications would have cameras and sensors mounted to detect potential obstructions in their path to avoid collisions.

The warehouse robots would not be Alphabet's first forays into the commercial distribution industry. X Development has already created a drone delivery service, called Wing, that was approved by the Federal Aviation Administration for a pilot program to locally deliver Walgreens packages for FedEx.

Google itself has also offered its services to retail distribution, partnering with Macy's to use Google Cloud to gather and analyze data for the department store's supply chain in order to maximize its efficiency.