Tokyo-based start-up Mujin is aiming to be a leader in automating logistics processes and produces the controllers — each about the size of a briefcase, one for motion planning and one for vision — that act as an operating system able to control the hardware from any robot manufacturer. Now, the company has transformed a Shanghai warehouse of JD.com into the first fully automated e-commerce warehouse.
Mujin’s goal is for its controllers to automatically generate motions for robots, eliminating the traditional need to teach robots manually. The result, according to the company, is higher productivity for users.
Mujin turned heads when it showed off its transformation of a warehouse operated by Chinese e-commerce giant JD.com. The 40,000-sqm facility in Shanghai began full operations in June. It was equipped with 20 industrial robots that pick, transfer and pack packages using crates on conveyor belts, as well as camera systems and Mujin robot controllers. Other robots carted merchandise around to loading docks and trucks.
Amazon also has invested heavily in automating its fulfillment centers, buying Massachusetts-based robot company Kiva Systems for USD 775 million in 2012, but JD.com called its facility the world’s first fully automated e-commerce warehouse. Instead of the usual 400 to 500 workers needed to run a warehouse that size, it only needs five. And their job is only to service the machines, not run operations.
Mujin’s plan is to move away from customization for every client and standardize a complete automation package.
Staffed by about 70 people, and run by the co-founder Rosen Diankov an American-Bulgarian, the startup including many non-Japanese, is headquartered in a working class district on the eastern side of Tokyo. While preaching the value of automation at trade shows, the company reminds people that the number of workers in Japan is dropping by 2,125 per day, due to the country’s low birthrate and aging population.