Sunday, 14 August 2016

Robotic storage

As with many industries, the future of self storage is robotics. Here's how it might look.

It's the end of the summer, you've just returned from a camping trip and are not planning to go camping again till next spring. You tap a couple of buttons on your smartphone an a couple of hours later a delivery drone arrives at your door with a couple of empty plastic storage crate. You load your camping equipment into the boxes, drop the boxes onto the drone, and forget about it till next spring. Whilst you're packing for your next camping trip, another couple of taps on your phone and your camping equipment is back with you.

You never knew where it was stored, and you didn't much care. All that you knew was that it was cheap, hassle free, and never more than an hour away.

To summarize the features of this technology:
  • Storage is containerized (not ISO shipping containers though!)
  • Boxes are collected from and delivered to customers' homes (or other location of choice)
This solution is actually possible with existing technology: we already have self-driving cars, and robots that can manipulate stand-sized packages (the storage crate).

Other than the customer-service benefit, there is a significant benefit to the storage company in that the storage does not need to be located as near to the customer as current self-storage solutions. This potentially allows cheaper land to be used, and larger buildings, resulting in economies of scale.

With more advanced robots

With more advanced robots it should be possible to handle non-containerized objects provided they are able to fit into the transportation drone. In the nearer term, the customer may load these onto the delivery drone at the customer's home and specialist drones will unpack. However it is likely to become possible that the delivery drone will arrive with a packing bot onboard. They packing bot would enter the customer's home to pick up the items, and could potentially wrap and box smaller items.

Consequences of such technology

With this service we can more easily own more things than we can fit into our homes, and as such it is likely that our propensity to consume could increase. However, delivery drones can also make it easier to rent items, which would tend to counter this effect.

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