The weeks have flown by and Hangzhou has begun to feel like a home away from home. After a period of deliberation, our team has finally settled on a potential solution to solve our problem.
The original goal was to make package collection from the Cainiao (菜鸟) collection centre more efficient in terms of the minimising the time a customer has to spend looking for his/her package. Also, to add some security features to ensure packages are not taken carelessly or stolen from the collection centre, which may result in a very disgruntled customer.
Initial ideas consisted of creating a device to be collected at the entrance, which helps to indicate the location of the package AR technology that serves as a scanner at the same time for the customer to self-checkout their package, thereafter returning the device at the exit. Other ideas included dispensing the packages using a vending machine system with QR codes to dispense the correct package, however, we realised this would be logistically tedious. Also, alterations of the existing shelves ranging from complicated to simple were also put into consideration. Some examples include turning the shelves into conveyor belts, segregating the packages according to sizes or simply colour coding the collection centre, instead of looking for the numbers on the shelves.
Our final idea turned out to convenience the workers more, instead of the consumers, which was a bigger problem to solve. Reason being, truck loads of packages are delivered to the Cainiao collection centre on a frequent basis. Much human labour is expended for the manual sorting of these parcels into their different labels. We thought of creating a modular system of hexagon-shaped modules that can be aligned with one another. These modules have wheels that can roll the packages into their own category after a Computer Vision software identifies the package through its tag. This means that workers can simply leave the packages onto conveyor belt of such modules without sorting them manually. Some features might include the flipping of the parcels, such that its identity tag is facing up so that the customer can easily identify their own package.
Ideation of such a product is easier said than done. Actualisation of the prototype is still a long road ahead. The coordination of the wheel motors with the identification of one package, followed by the coordination of a mass of packages are two different things altogether.