DHL, global market leaders in the logistics industry, approached Invirt Reality to develop a Proof of Concept (PoC) VR warehouse picker demonstrator. DHL specifically wanted the application to be deployed to the smart phone powered Samsung GearVR VR headset, therefore a key challenge was to model and support interaction of a complex virtual environment and at the same time achieve sufficient performance using much less processing power afforded by a smart phone.
The aim of the demonstrator was to determine if the use of VR technology could be used to improve the warehouse operation, specifically:
- Improve picker operation productivity (quicker, easier, better)
- Improve picker operation accuracy (less picking errors)
- Improve safety (greater awareness of working environment, lower accident rates)
- Make training more fun and engaging, address current resistance to using new technology within the business and increase staff retention
- Develop a VR application deployed to the Samsung GearVR providing a scalable and portable solution which could be rolled out to over 250 warehouse sites in the UK
The DHL Innovation Team provided a storyboard and invited Invirt Reality to one of their major distribution centres in Letchworth, where we were shown the warehouse picker operation in action. Invirt Reality subsequently developed a VR warehouse picker training demonstrator deployed to the GearVR. The application presents a virtual warehouse environment providing four rows of racking, providing three useable aisles. Movement in the virtual environment is achieved through the use of a hand controller, which is blue-tooth connected to the GearVR headset mobile phone. Trainees are able to move freely and also drive a tractor within the aisles and outbound bays were also provided.
The picking operation is controlled by pre-programmed functions in the virtual handheld scanner, which is used to both scan locations or stock, and feedback instructions to the trainee. The trainee navigates the virtual environment using the GearVR hand controller, providing left, right, forward and back control for both walking and driving a tractor. Interaction with the environment is facilitated using a combination of looking at an object using a small crosshair reticule, and using buttons on the hand controller to invoke various context sensitive actions. The virtual hand scanner is central to all activities with relevant information displayed on the screen of the scanner, providing options such as logging in or entering stock levels.
The DHL project demonstrates that it is possible to develop an interactive VR application of a complex virtual environment, in this case a large warehouse with supporting infrastructure, which can be deployed to a smart phone without any performance degradation. This is been achieved through clever modelling techniques and efficient software implementation.
DHL is currently assessing the VR demonstrator across a number of their warehouse operations. Initial feedback suggests that the technology could significantly contribute to cost reductions and improvements in the way training is delivered, not only within the DHL supply chain operation, but that it can also be applied to other functions within the DHL business.