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American Eagle expands use of warehouse robots to meet COVID-19 demands

A specialty apparel retailer is expanding the rollout of robots in its distribution centers as COVID-19 increases the demand for e-commerce and necessitates distancing.

American Eagle Outfitters Inc. is installing 26 new units of Kindred Sort piece-picking robots in its primary U.S. distribution centers. The retailer has been using the artificial intelligence (AI)-powered robots at facilities in Hazleton, Pa., and Ottawa, Kan., since 2018 and is adding more to meet increasing safety distancing standards and an unprecedented surge in e-commerce volume due to the global pandemic.

Gap Inc. also recently added to its fleet of Kindred Sort robots in its U.S. distribution centers in response to an unprecedented surge in online orders and significant workforce disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rather than standing side-by-side with co-workers to conduct pick and place operations, one employee can manage three to four Sort robots simultaneously, helping them to keep up with e-commerce fulfillment while maintaining social distancing.

The robots utilize AutoGrasp, a robotics intelligence platform that identifies and singulates items to pick and place into an automated putwall. AutoGrasp combines vision, grasping and manipulation algorithms to move clothing, poly bags and other small items. Kindred says it uses AI research and human-in-the-loop data methodology to continuously improve robot capabilities so that picking becomes smarter, faster and more accurate over time.

“American Eagle Outfitters (AEO) is committed to building a supply chain of the future—ensuring we are meeting our American Eagle and Aerie customers however and whenever they choose to shop, and getting merchandise into their hands as quickly as possible,” said Shekar Natarajan, senior VP, global inventory and supply chain logistics for AEO Inc. “We are excited to continue our partnership with Kindred because artificial intelligence, human-in-the-loop methodology and on-demand robotics as a service are the way of the future. Kindred robots in AEO’s distribution centers have helped to reduce operational costs, increased associate safety, and expedited throughput to better serve our customers.”

American Eagle operates more than 1,000 stores in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and Hong Kong, and ships to 81 countries worldwide through its websites. American Eagle and Aerie merchandise also is available at more than 200 international locations operated by licensees in 25 countries. 

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