WEAR - Search Results
Flower nursery gets high-tech help
Flowerwood Nursery in Loxley is the largest wholesale plant nursery in the Southeast. They're also one of the first in the country to install robotic workers.
It is a bit "Star Warsy," especially at night when robot wrangler Blake Langley's crew lights up.
"Had a lot of people say from the highway, they can see little aliens running around on Flowerwood."
Instead of extra - terrestrials -- it's seven simple robots. These front and back cones shoot infa red lasers, those hit reflective tape, guiding the gadgets up and down the rows. This black "eye" senses diameter.
"As he goes across the front of the pots he sees each one of them, once he comes to an empty hole that's where he drops the plant."
"We probably looked at it, analyzed it and tested it for a year."
Flowerwood CEO Ellis Ollinger says each robot costs $30,000. They are supposed to last for four years.
He says the robots are actually slower than humans, but can work double shifts, in the dark and even in light rain.
"You ride out here at lunchtime, everybody's gone but the robots are still running."
They run on rechargeable lithium batteries -- each robot holds two, four hour bricks. Langley says when the first crew of five arrived, many workers were worried about their jobs.
Ollinger says because what the robots do -- space plants in summer and bunch them in winter -- is mindless and doesn't take human judgement...they shifted people to better jobs.
"We've taught them more and more skills and we've moved them to where they're needed."
Langley says he does prefers supervising machines to humans, no smoke or Facebook breaks for them. But he says they're not perfect. If the sensors get covered, they go haywire and spin donuts and they can turn on you.
"They will see your leg, just like a pot. They will come after you, try to grab your leg."
Even with the occasional malfunction, Langley foresees doubling his engineered workforce within the next few years.