Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

French companies develop warehouse drones

Steve Rogerson
April 17, 2018

After almost two years of development, a completely automatic warehouse inventory system using drones, designed by French companies Geodis and Delta Drone, will be operational by the end of 2018.
More than 1000 flight hours in prototype mode across three pilot warehouses were required to arrive at this system, which allows companies to perform completely automatic warehouse inventories without interrupting their usual operations or requiring any human intervention.
The main advantages are the productivity gains generated by performing the inventories outside warehouse operating hours, more safety at work for the site’s employees, who no longer have to carry out this tedious and sometimes risky task, and better reliability of the inventory.
In the prototyping phase, multiple tests were carried out in real operating conditions to meet the specific constraints of warehouses, such as low light or the impact that the plastic film covering pallets has on image capturing, which required special adaptations to the cameras embedded in the drones.
This phase ended in 2017 with the development of a complete plug-and-play method that can be easily moved from one warehouse to another without requiring any prior changes to the warehouse. This also adapts to all types of warehouse management system.
Based on these positive results, the companies are now working on producing a system that can be manufactured, focusing their attention on the design and the final choice of the best components. The aim is to move to the industrial production stage at the end of the year. Initially, Geodis will be the exclusive user in its own warehouses.
It combines a ground-based robot equipped with a battery that provides the energy needed to navigate a warehouse and allows freedom from autonomy constraints, and a quadcopter drone equipped with four high-definition cameras. This set, equipped with indoor geolocation technology, operates autonomously during the hours the site is closed.
From an IT point of view, it enables the counting and reporting of data in real time, the processing of data, and its restitution in the warehouse’s information system. The tests conducted during this initial development phase show that it enables inventory to be managed reliably with rates close to 100%.
The Delta Drone group is an international player in the area of civilian drones for professional use. It offers a complete range of services, from data acquisition to data processing through a specifically developed information system, including a supply of professional pilots.