If your company operates a warehouse or distribution center, you must read this Technology Review article about a new warehouse robot system. And after you read it, you will so want an army of these robots. Heck, I don't even know where the nearest warehouse is, and I want one.
The robots are made by Kiva Systems and basically look like Michael Graves designed a box and painted it an ugly orange. But in the two giant Staples warehouses where the robots have been deployed, they're filling two to three times as many orders as they did pre-robots. They're even faster than a conveyor-belt system.
Here's why: When an order comes in, the robots immediately bring the warehouse shelf containing the product to workers, who can just grab the item and send it packing. But wait - there's more!
These little robots can actually create a more efficient warehouse that adapts to changing demand. They just move the shelves holding popular items closer to the workers - they'll even route items that are on the top shelves to tall workers. Further, they can give workers a heads up if items are becoming more popular, and thus need to be stocked on lower shelves, or tell workers to stock items together if the items are usually ordered as a pair.
The warehouse is basically arranged in a grid similar to random-access memory chips, according to the article.