6 River Systems: Transforming warehouse automation with IoT

About 6 River Systems

Based in Waltham, Massachusetts, 6 River Systems knows that fulfillment is key to customer satisfaction. Starting with Chuck, a collaborative mobile robot, 6 River Systems is building fulfillment solutions that power the winning warehouses of tomorrow.

Industries: Other
Location: United States

With IoT Core, Google Kubernetes Engine, and BigQuery on Google Cloud Platform, 6 River Systems is innovating faster and revolutionizing warehouse management.

Google Cloud Results

  • Gives customers a more flexible solution by moving more data processing to the network edge
  • Improves service levels and enables proactive troubleshooting without sending employees to customer sites
  • Enhances analytics capabilities to continuously improve performance of warehouse robots
  • Accelerates innovation by removing infrastructure, management, and scalability barriers

Able to scale 5x without increasing DevOps headcount

Meet Chuck, your friendly warehouse robot. Built from the same technology and sensors as self-driving vehicles, Chuck is changing the way manufacturing companies fulfill customers' orders. Able to perform essential warehouse tasks from stock picking and counting to store replenishment and sorting, Chuck gives warehouse operators a more flexible option compared with expensive, bolted-down automation solutions that lack scalability and real-time intelligence.

Chuck is the brainchild of 6 River Systems, a venture-backed startup building a new generation of automation and fulfillment systems for B2B e-commerce, retail, and third-party logistics operations. So far, the company has deployed Chucks in more than 25 warehouses, serving customers such as DHL, XPO Logistics, Medline Industries, and CSAT Solutions. During busy times of the year for e-commerce, such as Black Friday, the robots already collectively fulfill 1 million product units in just a week, a figure that 6 River Systems expects to grow as much as fivefold in the coming year. It's easy for customers to integrate Chuck with popular warehouse management systems to optimize stock picking and fulfillment.

"We chose Google Cloud Platform because Cloud APIs make it easy to write business automation and because Google Kubernetes Engine allows us to operate with a two-person DevOps team. Those are two benefits we couldn't get from other cloud providers."

Joseph Hughes, Director, DevOps & QA, 6 River Systems

Because each Chuck communicates with cloud-based software to coordinate the work on the warehouse floor, scalability is essential as 6 River Systems expands its robot fleet. Since the company was founded in 2015, 6 River Systems has relied exclusively on Google Cloud Platform (GCP) to host its cloud-based software, using Google Kubernetes Engine to quickly deploy cloud infrastructure for additional robots, give customers high availability, and keep its engineering team focused on innovation.

"We chose Google Cloud Platform because Cloud APIs make it easy to write business automation and because Google Kubernetes Engine allows us to operate with a two-person DevOps team," says Joseph Hughes, Director, DevOps and Quality Assurance at 6 River Systems. "Those are two benefits we couldn't get from other cloud providers."

Embracing the Internet of Things

Built with an eye towards continual improvement, Chuck can become even smarter by exchanging data via the Internet of Things (IoT). IoT is already revolutionizing the logistics and warehousing industry by providing the ability to more accurately identify supply-chain risks, prevent damaged or lost goods, and improve inventory management and forecasting accuracy.

To pass these benefits along to its customers, 6 River Systems needed an easy way to connect, manage, ingest, and analyze data from the robots to improve their intelligence and performance. Security was also paramount, since even one compromised Chuck could put customer operations and data at risk. Instead of building an IoT solution in-house, 6 River Systems decided to use Google Cloud IoT solutions, including Cloud IoT Core, a fully managed service for connecting globally dispersed devices. As a result, Chuck can make better decisions as it drives itself around the warehouse: navigating around obstacles, making route optimizations, and using vision machine learning to understand its environment.

"The combination of Cloud IoT Core and BigQuery makes it easy to collect data from our robots to make smarter business decisions and improve our customers' warehouse operations. It's allowing us to offer new and better ways of doing warehouse automation."

Fergal Glynn, VP Marketing, 6 River Systems

"We need to get data from the robots' sensors back to our cloud as efficiently as possible, with automated error handling and a more secure, responsive data pipeline," says Joe. "With Cloud IoT Edge, we can offer our customers increasingly flexible and powerful fulfillment solutions by making more decisions at the network edge."

Using an MQTT protocol bridge, IoT Core connects the robots to GCP, where a Device Manager registers each Chuck for monitoring. Telemetry data is then forwarded to a Cloud Pub/Sub topic, which triggers Cloud Functions to perform data normalization and transformations. Finally, data is sent to BigQuery, a cloud-based data warehouse, to continually analyze robot behavior for troubleshooting and performance optimization. Automatic load balancing and horizontal scaling help ensure smooth data ingestion under any conditions, even Black Friday sales.

"We want to focus on building and selling warehouse robots, not scaling IoT infrastructure," says Joe. "Cloud IoT Core is stable, highly secure, and can scale easily to meet all of our current and future demands. If we even suspect a device has been compromised, we can shut it off instantly with Google to avoid any impact to customers."

To store customer data in relational databases, 6 River Systems uses Cloud SQL, a managed service that supports high availability configurations. Every customer gets their own database, and 6 River Systems doesn't have to manage any of them, helping to keep its staff lean and focused. Once data is collected from the robots, it never leaves GCP even as it is normalized and analyzed, helping 6 River Systems maintain security and compliance as it expands globally.

"Because Google Cloud Platform has all the security certifications our customers expect, we get the benefit of having to do much less internally to safeguard our customers' data," says Joe.

"Google Cloud Platform gives us a modern and efficient toolset for IoT, AI, analytics, and everything else we need in the cloud to help our customers' warehouses run more efficiently. We can deploy anywhere in the world and know that Google will be there."

Chris Cacioppo, Co-founder and CTO, 6 River Systems

Accelerating warehouse innovation

With GCP, 6 River Systems improves service levels for 24/7 availability and performance. By analyzing real-time data from the robots, engineers can perform routine troubleshooting without sending employees out to customer sites. If a robot is low on battery, running at suboptimal speed, or acting strangely on the floor, 6 River Systems can proactively notify the customer and quickly correct the problem. If a customer reports an issue, average time to resolution is significantly reduced. And unlike traditional warehouse automation hardware that degrades over time, the robots receive nightly updates that make the entire system smarter.

"The combination of Cloud IoT Core and BigQuery makes it easy to collect data from our robots to make smarter business decisions and improve our customers' warehouse operations," says Fergal Glynn, Vice President of Marketing at 6 River Systems. "It's allowing us to offer new and better ways of doing warehouse automation."

Building more intelligent robots

By using GCP to remove infrastructure, management, and scalability barriers, 6 River Systems expects that it will be able to meet its fivefold growth expectations without adding DevOps headcount. It also plans to use Google Cloud AI products for pre-trained machine learning models to introduce new capabilities faster, helping Chuck become even more intelligent and effective while differentiating the company in a competitive market.

"Google Cloud Platform gives us a modern and efficient toolset for IoT, AI, analytics, and everything else we need in the cloud to help our customers' warehouses run more efficiently," says Chris Cacioppo, Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer at 6 River Systems. "We can deploy anywhere in the world and know that Google will be there."

About 6 River Systems

Based in Waltham, Massachusetts, 6 River Systems knows that fulfillment is key to customer satisfaction. Starting with Chuck, a collaborative mobile robot, 6 River Systems is building fulfillment solutions that power the winning warehouses of tomorrow.

Industries: Other
Location: United States