Improve the supply chain with drone-based image recognition

Warehouses are turning to drone-based image recognition to improve supply chain efficiencies.

By AIA October 29, 2019

Drones equipped with image recognition can help companies struggling with supply chain management issues in their warehouses. Unsold items lose their value and take up space in the warehouse. Distribution centers need to push out products to retail stores just in time for consumers to walk in and purchase them.

Warehouses help to decrease lost sales in many different ways. RFID-tags help managers identify and prevent out-of-stock scenarios. Automation equipment like sorting units, picking systems, and conveyors increase efficiency and throughput. But human pickers often spend the majority of their time walking product from one place to another. To improve efficiencies, warehouses are turning to drones.

Using drones in warehouses

Drones can help boost efficiency with supply chain management. Even though they can’t typically pick-and-place product, they can complete cycle counts and other inventory tasks. Drones can scan barcodes or RFID-tags faster than humans. Not only do warehouses save time, but they can conserve energy since order pickers and forklifts don’t need to navigate the warehouse. Drones also help keep humans safe. They can fly to high racks to scan barcodes instead of lifting a human worker up to the product.

Drones can improve supply chain management in the following ways:

  • Faster inventory counting
  • Less risk of employee injury
  • Humans can focus on higher-value jobs
  • Less downtime for inventory checks,

Drones typically help with counting by following these five steps:

  1. The drone receives a task to count an inventory item. Items are often stored in boxes, and many are up high on pallet racking.
  2. The warehouse’s inventory management software is integrated with the drone. The drone instantly accesses the aisle, rack, and bin location.
  3. The drone uses advanced mapping software to create an optimal path to the stock location. The drone’s optical system combines computer vision and deep learning to recognize obstacles and to find the product.
  4. The drone navigates to the stock location.
  5. The drone uses image recognition to inspect the labels on the product. It captures an image of the barcode or uses RFID-tags to report the inventory count to the warehouse’s inventory management system.

Embedded vision improves supply chain management

Image recognition and machine vision drive the drone. Onboard vision sensors help guide it along. Drones are able to detect people and obstacles to avoid collisions. Drones can fly through the warehouse and find products that are misplaced, that need to be restocked, and that are obsolete, and they can then alert warehouse management to the issue.

Image recognition needs to be implemented for the drone to interface with the warehouse inventory management system. Image data about the products must be compiled and organized. Thousands of images need to be uploaded that show what the object is and what it is not.

Image recognition systems then need to be programmed with algorithms that form predictive models. The warehouse management software and the drone can now recognize what the drone is “seeing” and use that information to perform a task.

This article originally appeared in Vision Online. AIA is a part of the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), a CFE Media content partner. Edited by Chris Vavra, production editor, CFE Media,

Original content can be found at

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