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The EVP of a 25-year-old warehouse tech company wants to talk AI

Lucas Systems is using artificial intelligence to make operations run more efficiently. Exec Scott Mullins discusses how the Wexford company is thinking about new technology, plus gamification for worker engagement, ahead of his Beyond Big Data panel.

Inside a warehouse. (Pexels/Tiger Lily)

As generative AI emerges as a leading tech trend this year, especially in the supply chain and logistics space, a 25-year-old warehouse optimization company is experimenting with new ways to apply artificial intelligence to its operations.

Wexford-based Lucas Systems uses AI-driven software for warehouse management. Its Jennifer intelligence tool, for instance, connects workers and robots with automation and IT systems for more efficient picking and packing routes. The company won in Pittsburgh Technology Council’s 2023 Tech 50 Awards for the Solutions Provider: Innovative Tech category.

“There’s a little bit of a mystique around AI, specifically gen AI — it’s either going to solve all of our problems or destroy the world. So I hope people realize there are very pragmatic uses of AI, predictive analytics, machine learning,” EVP of Operations and COO Scott Mullins told Technical.ly. “On a daily basis, we and other companies are solving very real-world problems with it. So it’s not all about the hype, it’s about what we can actually do with it.”

Talking AI

From medical diagnostics to learning apps, businesses and governments alike have been using generative AI to aid their staff members and perform tasks too risky for humans, though concerns about ethics and regulations remain.

On Feb. 2, Mullins will be the moderator of a panel titled “Where are we now? Analytics and generative AI in current use cases” at the 2024 Beyond Big Data: AI/Machine Learning Summit hosted by the Tech Council. The panel will discuss how generative AI can be used to meet business needs, and includes speakers from Ecolab, Pittsburgh International Airport, Industrial Scientific and Giant Eagle.

A Lucas Systems worker picks product using hands-free voice technology connected to larger logistics operations. (Courtesy)

“What we’re looking to do is bring to light some real-world use cases for generative AI, machine learning and predictive analytics, and what companies are actually doing across different industries,” said Mullins, who was previously CTO at Annexus Health, as well as a senior software development director for two decades at Intalere. “Where they’re solving business problems, how they use it both internally to improve their own efficiency, and then also providing it to their customers.”

This marks the 10th year the Beyond Big Data summit will be taking place. Pittsburgh Technology Council VP of Communications and Media Jonathan Kersting said the event will bring AI experts from across the region together to discuss new trends.

“It’s one of our largest events, drawing more than 250 participants,” Kersting said. “Every year, it connects the region’s top AI, machine learning and data analytics thought leaders to share the latest trends, insights and best practices shaping and transforming business.”

While this isn’t Lucas Systems’ first year having a presence at the summit, it will be Mullins’ first time attending. He’s looking forward to having conversations about the ethical issues surrounding artificial intelligence — and hope attendees who feel uncertain about the technology will walk away understanding its uses a little better.

Gamification for worker engagement

Beyond AI software, Lucas Systems is always looking for practical ways to keep warehouses running efficiently while easing or improving employees’ work, Mullins said. The company has been seeking to give employees real-time feedback through gamification on the job, and developing work-based competitions for day-to-day tasks.

“We find that we have improved efficiency, improved productivity, [and] workers enjoy it more as they get to compete with their coworkers, either across shifts on the same shift to be at the top of that leaderboard,” Mullins said.

Of hundreds of warehouses worldwide where a gamification strategy has been used, Lucas Systems recently found that 84% of the workers who participate say they’re more likely to remain in their positions. Gamification is “happening across industries,” Mullins said, “and we’re seeing it happening more and more in warehouses.”

Check out the company’s report here.

Atiya Irvin-Mitchell is a 2022-2024 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments.
Companies: Pittsburgh Technology Council
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