At the Techonomy 23 conference, Rebecca Yeung, the corporate vice president for operations science and advanced technology at FedEx, delves into the cutting-edge technologies being developed and utilized by her company, particularly in the realms of robotics and artificial intelligence. Her focus is on how these technologies are revolutionizing the company’s operations, enhancing efficiency, safety, and productivity.
Yeung emphasizes the significance of robotics and unmanned, autonomous technologies in shaping FedEx’s future. She notes that FedEx’s approach to robotics is not to start with the technology itself but to first identify the problem that needs solving. This approach is crucial in a complex environment like FedEx’s, where they handle a diverse array of packages differing in size, shape, and weight, requiring advanced robotics and AI-driven solutions.
A key aspect of FedEx’s technological advancement is the development of sophisticated AI algorithms, advanced computer vision, and high-speed processing capabilities, driven by GPU advancements. These technologies enable robots to make smarter decisions, particularly in handling the diverse and unpredictable nature of package sorting and transportation. Yeung points out that the convergence of these technologies has made robots much more capable and intelligent, moving beyond simple, repetitive tasks to more complex and varied functions.
Working Like, and Safely with, Humans
Safety is a top priority in FedEx’s operations, and Yeung underscores the importance of integrating safety into the design of robotics systems. She highlights the involvement of frontline team members in the design process, ensuring that the technology is not only efficient but also safe and intuitive for human interaction. FedEx’s approach is to develop robots that can safely navigate their environment and interact seamlessly with human workers.
Yeung also discusses the challenges of automating tasks like truck loading, where robots need to replicate human-like decision-making and tactile sensations. These robots must efficiently and safely stack packages, considering factors like weight and spatial optimization, akin to playing Tetris. The robots utilize advanced force control mechanisms and rapid generative world-building algorithms to achieve this.
FedEx is exploring various areas of automation, such as palletization, depalletization, and trailer unloading. The focus is on easing strenuous tasks for human workers and improving overall productivity. Yeung also touches upon FedEx’s experiments with autonomous vehicles, emphasizing the need for safety and redundancy in vehicle systems.
Finally, Yeung expresses excitement about the future of AI, seeing it as a powerful tool to transform operations and improve safety, efficiency, and productivity. Her vision is that we are only at the beginning of realizing AI’s full potential and its ability to revolutionize industries like logistics and transportation.
(This summary was prepared using generative artificial intelligence.)