Drones powered by artificial intelligence (AI) technology and computer vision systems can assist with warehouse management through inventory monitoring and location utilization reports.

Gather AI, a company specializing in AI-powered computer vision technology, announced an updated solution with two additional capabilities – inferred case counting and location occupancy, which provide real-time data on inventory levels and warehouse occupancy.

Drones equipped with cameras capture images of each location within the warehouse, with the capability to scan up to 900 pallets per hour. These images are then processed by AI algorithms, which analyze multiple barcodes and text, as well as identify empty storage locations.

The inferred case counts can scan both full and partial pallets and calculate location occupancy percentages, both of which are integrated into the customer web dashboard.

Sean Mitchell, vice president of customer success for Gather AI said this technology streamlines the process of verifying case counts, thereby reducing time and labor costs.

It also facilitates informed decision-making by enabling warehouses to identify available space for inventory consolidation and mitigating honeycombing issues.

He explained in warehouse management, “honeycombing” refers to the inefficient use of storage space caused by scattered or irregularly shaped gaps between pallets or items.

“This results in wasted space within the warehouse, as these gaps cannot be effectively utilized for storing additional inventory,” he said. “Counting cases and monitoring inventory inaccuracies manually is slow and aggravates these challenges – case counting and location occupancy can combat this.”

He added, by leveraging the synergies of AI and drone technologies, warehouses can achieve unprecedented levels of efficiency and optimization in their operations.

“The process of manually counting individual items or pallets in large warehouses is an extremely time-consuming process,” he said.

Mitchell said by implementing Gather AI’s solution, there are fewer people in the air on automated lifts, which reduces safety issues, and case counting can be done securely from the ground.

“The solution also saves employees time from needing to go up on lifts to check product that may already be correct,” he explained.

This allows workers to focus their time on areas that need work and no longer scramble to look for missing product, or to quickly pull replenishments to meet an order.

Mitchell said the next stage would be to further improve the workflow optimization with features that allow users to evaluate stock levels and discrepancies even more quickly.

“Because our solution analyzes pictures of pallet locations, we will continue to roll out more functionality leveraging our computer vision and AI to improve warehouse inventory management,” he said.

Gartner analyst Pedro Pacheco said drones equipped with AI and computer vision have multiple practical applications for warehouse management, which aside from inventory management extend to surveillance and even transport.

“Even if a drone cannot carry as much as a truck, if you need just a few parts to get the factory going, it’s faster if you send them via drone,” he said.

Pacheco notes that while the technology is advancing, it remains in its early stages of development and widespread adoption of drone technology has been relatively slow.

“Gather AI’s utilization of drones within warehouses and Amazon’s drone delivery system exemplify diverse use cases,” he noted.

The most public-facing application for drones in warehouses is their use to deliver packages to end customers, which Amazon, among others, has begun trialing.

In April, drone-based last-mile delivery startup, DroneUp, announced plans to launch last-mile logistics further into the mainstream by partnering with retail giants including Walmart, 7-Eleven and Chick-fil-A.

Pacheco said these rollouts are likely to first reach customers in rural areas, where the drones can fly more freely and don’t have to worry about urban navigation issues—that’s also where most fulfilment centers are located.

“The use case is sound, because in terms of you need something ASAP, it’s great – the drone can do it faster and more efficiently than a van,” he said. “But even so, this has not scaled up as quickly as initially expected.”

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