Little Bird Automates Stock-Picking with Bishop, a Raspberry Pi-Powered Raspberry Pi Picker

In a textbook case from Dogfooding, Australian electronics retailer Little Bird Electronics has greatly streamlined the process of picking and shipping Raspberry Pi single-board computers and other devices — by using a Raspberry Pi to automate the process.

“Bishop is our picking (and eventually packing) robot powered by Raspberry Pi,” the company explains of the automation system used in its Pi Australia division. “Bischof, named after the android from the Aliens movie, consists of a shelf and a shuttle that moves along it to pick order lines and deliver them to a pick bin. It’s like a giant vending machine for our most popular products.”

“Bishop” aims to increase productivity by selecting the very parts that power it, ready to ship. (📹: Little Bird Electronics)

Developed by Nick Owen of Little Bird and Nuvotion, the Bishop system is powered by a Raspberry Pi 4 Model B 4GB, one of the products it is to choose to ship, and running the Raspberry Pi OS Linux Distribution running LinuxCNC and a Mesanet 7C80 FPGA_based automation controller for Computer Numeric Control (CNC) of the stepper motors and linear actuators driving the mechanical side.

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This mechanical side consists of a custom plywood and steel shelving system to hold inventory, a rack and pinion for the shuttle, and a combination of Hall Effect sensors and limit switches to determine the shuttle’s position. When a product has been ordered, the shuttle finds its place, uses a linear actuator to move towards the shelf, lifts the product over the edge of the shelf with a toy train-inspired “finger” and delivers it to the packing area.

“When an order comes in from one of our locations, the Rails application [Koi, an inventory management tool] assesses whether Bishop has the products needed to fulfill the order,” explains the team. “When Bishop has the products, it sends a request to a Ruby script running on the Pi to select the products. The Ruby script then connects to the LinuxCNCs linuxcncrsh Process via telnet and sends a series of commands to LinuxCNC to pick the products and deliver them to a pick bin.”

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With Bishop working as is, the Little Bird team is testing some potential upgrades – including automated packaging and labeling for shipping, the latter including experimentation with using reusable shipping boxes with ePaper labels supporting remote updating. “Don’t tell Auspost that,” the team writes, “but we tested their ability to scan and deliver the e-ink label and it works!”

More information on Bishop is available in Little Bird’s blog post.

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