We stumbled upon a fascinating new use case for barcodes in the news recently—robots that use QR codes to track their location! Kiva Systems is a manufacturer of robots that specialize in managing inventories at shipping centers and warehouses. The robots travel around the shipping center picking up, organizing and delivering products to workers. In the image below note the little white squares that appear on the ground. Yes, you guessed it… QR codes!
Amazon recently announced that they would be acquiring Kiva Systems for $775 million, the second largest acquisition in the company’s history just below the Zappos.com deal for $895 million back in 2009. As Amazon’s customer base continues to grow, they’ve had to make some moves to increase their shipping capacity. Several other retailers are also using Kiva robots such as the Gap and Crate & Barrel. The system boasts shipping fulfillment at three to four times the rate of manual processes. We expect that with these kinds of results, more companies are likely to consider replacing manual labor with robots.
It’s exciting to see a traditional inventory management tool such as barcode scanning being reincarnated to disrupt outdated business models once again. It’s thus also in order to ask how traditional scanner manufacturers are going to react now that barcode scanning can be utilized with common mobile platforms such as iOS and Android? Will they start re-focussing their efforts on high-end use cases that are not (yet) challenged by mobile phone-based barcode scanning? Or will they embrace this new technology platform in the quest for new, innovative business models and applications? The future will tell us soon.
As the sci-fi future we’ve always dreamed of arrives, we’re excited to discover these new and innovative ways of using barcodes. Developers have truly just begun to scratch the surface here. Researchers at MIT have even developed paper robots you can print yourself from home! Once these print-at-home robots have a working camera, we’re sure they’ll be scanning up a storm.
Have any other ideas for how robots could utilize barcodes? Share them below!