Amazon showcases latest warehouse robot prototypes • The Register

Amazon has unveiled its first “fully autonomous mobile robot” and other machines designed to work alongside human workers in its warehouses.

In 2012, the e-commerce giant acquired Kiva Systems, a robotics startup, for $775 million. Now, in the wake of that, Amazon has revealed several prototypes powered by artificial intelligence and computer vision algorithms, ranging from robotic grippers to mobile storage systems, that it has developed over the past decade. The mega-company hopes to one day use them in warehouses, apparently to help staff lift, transport and scan items more efficiently.

His “autonomous mobile robot” is a disc-shaped device on wheels, and looks like a Roomba. Instead of sucking up crumbs, the machine, named Proteus, carefully slips under a cart full of packages and pushes it along the factory floor. Amazon said Proteus was designed to work directly with and alongside humans and doesn’t need to be restricted to specific caged locations for safety reasons.

Youtube video

The robot emits a beam of green light to navigate, stopping if it detects something or someone blocking its path, as seen in the demo video above. Proteus will initially be deployed in outbound processing areas of Amazon’s fulfillment and sorting centers, before being rolled out more broadly.

These robots are designed to perform mundane tasks over and over. Amazon hopes they will reduce the risk of injury to workers. “Heavy lift movement, as well as reducing employee twisting and turning, are areas we are continually looking to automate to help reduce the risk of injury,” the cloud titan insisted.

protea

Meet your fellow robot… The Proteus Prototype. Source: Amazon. Click to enlarge

Next is Cardinal, described as a “robotic work cell”. It is a mechanical arm with a set of grippers on one end. Resolving cost and labor issues is undoubtedly also a factor.

The machine would use AI and computer vision to pick up packages, read their labels and place them on a cart. Staff won’t need to twist and turn to scan and put away items as much if the robot can do it for them. Cardinal can only pick up packages below certain sizes and weights at this time, although engineers are trying to develop a version capable of handling packages up to 50 pounds (22.7 kg) and hope to implement machines Cardinal in distribution centers next year.

Amazon employees are currently scanning each item manually as products pass through various warehouses before being routed to shoppers. One of the prototypes shown is Amazon Robotics’ Identification Tool, which analyzes camera footage at 120 frames per second and automatically scans boxes and envelopes as a worker carries them from cart to cart. shelf. Finally, we’re shown another robot that can pick up and put away trash cans, saving staff the hassle of climbing ladders or bending over to retrieve packages.

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Amazon is showing off its warehouse robot prototypes just as a leaked memo revealed it feared it would end up in the available labor pool. Employees don’t tend to stay in fulfillment centers for very long, and some try and succeed in unionizing. This is not surprising given that they face relatively high injury rates and the pressure to process orders as quickly as possible. To help bolster its manual workforce, Amazon needs to deploy more “droids.”

Machines will not completely replace humans, however, we are told. “Speculation was rife that Amazon was replacing people with robots…From the early days of acquiring Kiva, our vision was never tied to a binary decision of people or technology. Instead , it was about people and technology working together safely and seamlessly to deliver for our customers. That vision lives on today,” the company said in a statement.

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