Automated drone-based warehouse inventory solution

Global supply chain operator Geodis is working together with Delta Drone, an international player in the area of civilian drones for professional use, to perfect a completely automatic warehouse inventory solution using drones. The solution is scheduled to become operational at the end of this year, marking the culmination of almost two years of development work.

More than 1,000 flight hours in prototype mode across three pilot warehouses were required to arrive at this solution, which will allow companies to perform completely automatic warehouse inventories (requiring no human intervention) without interrupting their usual operations. The main advantages of this solution are the productivity gains generated by performing the inventories outside warehouse operating hours, greater safety at work for the site’s employees who no longer have to carry out this tedious and sometimes risky task, and a greater reliability of the inventory.

In the prototyping phase, multiple tests were carried out in real operating conditions in order to meet the specific constraints of warehouses, such as low light. Another hurdle was the image capturing difficulty posed by the plastic film covering pallets, which required special adaptations to the cameras embedded in the drones. The prototyping phase was concluded in 2017 with the development of a complete ‘plug and play’ solution that can be easily moved from one warehouse to another without requiring that any prior changes are made to the warehouse. This solution is also compatible with all types of warehouse management systems.

Based on these results, Geodis and Delta Drone are now working on making the system manufacturable, focusing their attention on the solution’s design and the final choice of components. The aim is to move to the industrial production stage at the end of this year. Initially, Geodis will be the exclusive user of this solution in its own warehouses.

The solution combines a ground-based robot equipped with a battery that provides the energy needed to navigate the warehouse and allows freedom from autonomy constraints, and a quadcopter drone equipped with four high-definition cameras. This set, fitted with indoor geolocation technology, operates autonomously during the hours the warehouse is closed. From an IT point of view, the solution enables the counting and reporting of data in real time as well as data processing and integration with the warehouse information system. The tests conducted during this initial development phase show that the inventory management reliability is close to 100 percent.