The US supply chain industry is a critical backbone of the country’s economy, responsible for ensuring the smooth flow of goods from manufacturers to consumers. In recent years, the industry has witnessed significant growth in both volume and the incorporation of robotics and automation. The volume of goods being transported within the US supply chain is immense, with approximately 72.5 billion tons of freight moved in 2020 alone. This volume is expected to continue increasing as consumer demands evolve.
Robotics has played a pivotal role in transforming the US supply chain landscape. With advancements in technology, businesses are increasingly integrating robotics to streamline operations, enhance efficiency, and reduce costs. In 2020, the US had around 2,300 operational industrial robots per 10,000 employees in the manufacturing sector. Robots have taken center stage by automating various warehouse tasks, including picking and packing, sorting, and managing inventory. Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) now navigate through warehouses, identifying products and transporting them to designated areas. An eminent professional with expertise in designing and programming such advanced robots is Karthikeyan Yuvaraj. His groundbreaking contributions to robotics and computer vision within the logistics and supply chain domain are exceptional. His endeavors have yielded numerous granted patents and publications.
Karthikeyan’s professional journey spans roles at Alphabet (the parent organization of Google) and Honeywell, where his focus revolves around pioneering advanced robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies tailored for the logistics and supply chain sector. The Indian government recognized his achievements and awarded him the highly prestigious “International Achievers Award” and the “Professional of the Year award.” The IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers), the world’s largest technical professional organization, awarded him senior membership considering his impact on robotics and computer vision. Canada’s International Achievement research center awarded him the “Scientist of the Year 2023”.
One of Karthikeyan’s remarkable accomplishments centers around the development of Honeywell’s robotic truck unloader. These substantial, tank-like robots navigate within trailers to unload cargo. Unloading trucks is a task that is physically demanding with minimal intellectual inputs required and could easily be replaced by robots. However, the challenge was that even the smartest robot eyes have trouble telling apart different boxes in a crowded truck, which is something humans are naturally good at. Beyond the formidable technical barriers, incorporating robotic truck unloaders can transform a business’s logistics and supply chain operations, improving efficiency, cost savings, and overall competitiveness. Karthikeyan found a solution to this by developing the vision system for the automatic truck unloader at Honeywell. His vision system comprises LIDARS and Infrared/RGB cameras. “The robot needs to be able to see as humans do and with 3D spatial awareness so that it can grasp the cargo precisely with its arms,” he says.
Karthikeyan’s innovation transformed the robot from a proof of concept to a commercial product launch on customer sites. Fedex, a world leader in the package delivery industry, deployed these robotic truck unloaders in their facilities nationwide. Apart from successful customer deployments, Karthikeyan’s efforts in developing the robotic truck unloader resulted in numerous patents being approved in the United States and internationally. His patent, “3D-2D vision system for robotic carton unloading” received multiple citations from big names in the robotics/AI space, like Amazon, Caterpillar, and Boston Dynamics.
After Honeywell, Karthikeyan joined Vicarious as one of the founding roboticists. Vicarious AI was a Silicon Valley startup working towards Artificial General Intelligence for warehousing applications. His most notable effort was developing a robot that teaches other robots to see and grasp novel objects. This work resulted in a granted patent and was pivotal for many production-related efforts with the customers. This robot was deployed to many major warehousing facilities throughout the USA in 2020, during the height of the pandemic. One of the most significant deployments of Vicarious AI was with Pitney Bowes. Pitney Bowes is a global technology company that provides shipping, mailing, e-commerce, and data management solutions. “I was in Pitney Bowe’s shipping facility in Ohio deploying robots in 2020. Right before my eyes, the workers were asked to stop the operation and go home due to the Coronavirus. That was my firsthand experience that how robots are crucial and impervious to disasters like the pandemic,” he says. Google acquired Vicarious AI in June 2022 for its groundbreaking tech in Robotics/AI.