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Simple as Raspberry Pi
12 December 2012
Andrew Blair, Swisslog sales manager comments on the Raspberry Pi - a single-board computer developed in the UK to stimulate the teaching of computer science in schools. He argues the device could have a far reaching impact, even on the world of the warehouse.
What is It?
We take so much technology for granted these days, it's easy to overlook something that at first appears to be a minor step forward, but might just transform the way we work.
Take the new Raspberry Pi. Essentially it's just a computer, something that's commonplace, hardly a game changer. However this computer measures in at just 85.60 mm x 53.98 mm x 17 mm - about the size of a credit card. Its power is the equivalent to a Pentium 2 laptop, only with 'better graphics'. It runs on open source software (that's free for all) and costs about the same as 7 or 8 cartons of real raspberries, around £15.
I have a feeling that this device will radically change our world.
Why Should I Be Interested?
Ostensibly designed to encourage education in programming, it is hoped the device will lead to a new generation understanding true computing, rather than simply learning to use existing applications. Business is ready to exploit such a powerful tool, as the IT experts are already predicting: â€œIt's not just IT-related industry which stands to benefit from a shift to teaching true computing in schools as a replacement for the administrative skills-heavy ICT curriculum of today,â€ says IT Pro Magazine, â€'¦'programmatic thinking'â€¦is a skill which would benefit any role in a business.â€
At first it may be hard to spot, but as Pi-driven in-store price displays and promotions become more popular, advertising boards are networked at low cost and mini internets develop, Swarm computing will increase the effective processing power even more and the low cost unit will begin to make its mark.
Over the past years in the food and beverage sector there has been a clear trend of production facility consolidation, triggered by the expansion of a few large global food producers. Production facilities that used to service only the local market are now servicing multiple or even global markets. As production volumes rise, the pressure for storage logistics grows and automation is often the only option to cope with the new environment.
Thanks to its low cost accessibility, the potential for Pi to allow greater integration of production, storage and logistics is great, and not just for those global players.
How Can We Use It?
In the warehouse, expect greater condition monitoring and automated adjustment (multiple sensors and outputs automatically adjusting the flow of goods). We'll find forklifts with in-built GPS tracking capability and individual trailers with their own contents, condition, route, and orders all integrated within their framework.
Greater range, smaller quantities and home delivery are all factors at odds with the traditional business need for efficiency and economies of scale.
Low cost (and small size) computing will mean that an overall extremely complex operation can be broken down into smaller sub systems with each element adding to the whole. Think along the lines of multiple fairly simple devices performing far greater feats as a group that the sum of the individual elements.
A product or container fitted with a Pi can route itself through a system rather than being directed by a central control system.
Greater levels of sorting can also be done cost effectively either automatically or manually via a display showing the put to location.
Add in a level of simple mechanics and automatic pick and place becomes much easier.
Link in scanners that are already available, and pattern recognition will also automate defect rejection.
Combine the Pi with low cost mechanics and well written software, and the world of automation becomes financially viable to smaller producers. The potential is limitless.
Currently humans run the world but it could be Raspberries who take us into the future.