Meet Mr Baxter, the pick-and-pack robot at DHL's new centre

Guests at the launch of the centre were able to see Mr Baxter, a pick-and-pack robot, placing packets of Panadol into a DHL parcel.
Guests at the launch of the centre were able to see Mr Baxter, a pick-and-pack robot, placing packets of Panadol into a DHL parcel.ST PHOTO: MARISSA LEE

Logistics giant DHL is giving customers a glimpse of the warehouse of the future at its $10 million Asia-Pacific Innovation Centre, the first such centre outside Germany.

The new centre, supported by the Economic Development Board (EDB) was opened yesterday at TampinesLogis Park.

The showroom's centrepiece is a robotics exhibit where Mr Baxter, a US$55,000 (S$77,400) pick-and-pack robot, has been pre-programmed to pick up items and pack them onto another autonomous robot which, with the help of sensors, can find its way across the room.

DHL's experts said that unlike traditional industrial robots, which are not sensitive to their surroundings and cannot collaborate with humans, Mr Baxter will pause if he detects a human in his way, thanks to the force sensors built into his arms.

Other futuristic technologies on display include augmented reality "smart glasses" that can scan barcodes and help workers speed up sorting in the assembly line, a smart truck, driverless vehicles and a forklift simulator.

DHL has a central team of 50 people working on innovation efforts, 10 of whom will be based here.

DHL chief commercial officer Bill Meahl said at the launch that the centre is intended as a starting point to promote collaborative innovation in the region.

"We've got a lot of requests and a lot of customers are visiting our facility even before the opening," said Ms Pang Mei Yee, vice-president of innovation, solution delivery and service management for DHL Asia-Pacific.

One exciting area for logistics firms is the use of drones - a potentially convenient way to move parts and parcels within warehouses, survey infrastructure, and perform last-mile deliveries in congested areas or places where infrastructure is lacking, such as oilfields and disaster-struck cities.

But it will be a while before DHL's "parcelcopter" moves out of pilot trials, as regulators are still wrapping their heads round the new technology. "Security, risk of malfunctions and the threat to public safety is definitely one area of concern," said Ms Pang. "We are in a very early stage in the regulatory environment, but we believe these road blocks can be managed. Singapore wants to be the leader in driving this technology employment, and is doing a lot to engage with industries like us and the relevant stakeholders to understand how we can deploy it."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 10, 2015, with the headline 'Meet Mr Baxter, the pick-and-pack robot at DHL's new centre'. Print Edition | Subscribe