As if operated by a ghost, a man-sized aluminum box purrs along the length of a shelf. The robot stops in front of a stack of books, places one gripper bar over the top book, attaches to the binding edge of the book and pulls it from the stack using its extended guide rails. It then places the book on its traveling shelf and rolls along to its next destination.
Toru, which is Japanese for "grab", is the name of this mobile, perception-controlled shelf robot that will take over the work of the human picker. "Until now it had only been possible to fetch entire containers - crates or pallets," explains Frederik Brantner, the CEO of the Munich-based company Magazino. "Now also an individual object from a box or a shelf can be retrieved by the robot and carried to the workbench or shipping station," the 32 year-old explains. At age of 16, he founded his first company, which sold used computers. After completing his Business Administration undergraduate degree, Brantner was a business consultant, a profession where he confronted the challenges of warehouse logistics again and again. Thus, he got the idea to develop a logistics robot that is more flexible and adaptable than conventional models.
Toru receives storage location information via WLAN. It has 2D and 3D cameras and a laser scanner which are used to recognize the desired product - such as a particular book within a stack of books. Toru then pulls it out. Soon, Toru will also incorporate a flexible arm so that it can not only grab cube-shaped objects, but also, for example, a loose T-Shirt. Currently, Toru is practicing how to grab a small pocket book or a heavy dictionary at the book distributor Sigloch. Even if the warehouse distribution changes or new objects are added, the robot adapts. And it can upload its newly acquired knowledge to a database so that other Torus can reap the benefits of its experiences. Brantner is convinced that, "Robots that operate networked in a cluster will fundamentally alter the logistics of all companies".