The Otto Group (Otto), one of Europe’s largest online retailers, has announced a new long-term strategic partnership with Covariant, an artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics company.
Covariant’s AI-powered robots will be used to automate several of Otto’s fulfilment centres, with specific applications including those that require hand-eye coordination and object manipulation.
One of the main objectives of the agreement is to improve Otto Group’s customer services and enhance its digitalisation capabilities. Some of the other strategic goals include building resilience against labour market challenges and increasing operational efficiency and delivery times.
The Covariant robots are designed to autonomously handle unexpected fulfilment scenarios that have previously limited picking automation, including the processing of changing products without having to pre-program data.
What’s more, all Covariant robots have been developed to learn collaboratively, regardless of where they have been deployed, to allow them to learn as a fleet. This, their developers claim, ensures that learnings and operational improvements will be automatically shared across the entire Otto Group network.
“Logistics faces the challenge of being as cost-efficient as possible,” said Kay Schiebur, member of the Executive Board, services, at the Otto Group.
“The use of a generalist AI allows us to rethink processes that were not possible before and provides an answer to the massive shortage of workers.
“In times when handling is often outsourced to cheaper locations, we are especially happy to continue to be close to our customers and strengthen the European, and especially German business location. The use of AI will be a key success factor in logistics in the future.”
Covariant delivers robotic picking, placing and sorting solutions powered by the Covariant Brain, which it describes as a universal AI platform that enables robots to see, think and act.
“This is a huge step forward for the automation of Europe’s e-commerce market as it represents one of the largest investments in a foundation model for robotics to date,” said Peter Chen, CEO, Covariant.
“We’re honoured that Kay and team recognise the importance of developing a universal AI for robot learning and we look forward to delivering the operational improvements that will help maintain Otto Group’s market-leading position for years to come.
“In times of a challenging market environment, it is essential that future investments do not fall by the wayside. We invest here and now in our future viability to strengthen our position as a market leader in Europe.”
Through the new partnership, the pair plans to deploy hundreds of Covariant’s AI-powered robotic solutions across all Otto Group fulfilment centres, with installations set to begin this year in Germany at the Haldensleben and Altenkunstadt facilities.