Amazon Unveils Fully Autonomous Warehouse Robot

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You can’t discuss fulfillment robots without mentioning Amazon. Over the past decade, the retail giant has become the 800-pound gorilla in its category thanks to several key acquisitions and seemingly endless resources. And while warehouse robotics and automation have accelerated amid the pandemic and the resulting decline in employment, Amazon Robotics has been ruling these categories for years.

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This week at its annual Re:Mars conference in Las Vegas, the company celebrated the tenth anniversary of its robotics division, which actually came into being with the acquisition of Kiva Systems. During its existence, Amazon Robotics has deployed over 520,000 robotic actuators in its fulfillment and sorting centers. From the outside, it was a huge success in the company’s quest for same-day and next-day delivery, and it forced the competition to look for its own third-party robotics solutions, backing startups like Locus, Fetch, and Berkshire Grey.

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Amazon Robotics CEO Ty Brady took the stage at today’s event to show what the future of her own automated systems will look like. At the heart of the novelty are two new robots: Proteus and Cardinal, an autonomous floor system and a robotic arm, respectively. The new robots are being integrated into the same shelf/cell system that has existed since Kiva.

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However, now Proteus provides full floor autonomy. The company notes in its blog,

Proteus navigates our properties autonomously using advanced security, perception and navigation technologies developed by Amazon. The robot has been designed to automatically do its job and move around employees, meaning it doesn’t need to be restricted to restricted areas. It can operate in a way that complements the simple and secure interaction between technology and people, opening up a wider range of possible uses to assist our employees, such as lifting and moving GoCarts, the manual wheeled vehicles used to move packages. through our facilities.

If I had to venture a guess, I would say that Proteus most likely result of the acquisition of the company in 2019 Boulder, Colorado-based autonomous cart company, Canvas. As I remarked at the time, “Canvas […] provides its own built-in security with an offline review system. The hardware is designed to interact more directly with workers on the floor. It’s easier to imagine the company implementing this technology into some of its existing systems as well.”

Image credits: Amazon

Apparently, some of this Canvas technology has been integrated into the Kiva form factor, so these robots can work with existing Amazon systems with minimal customization. What gives the extra autonomy is the ability to work in less controlled environments, which means the technology can be implemented in additional environments outside of the current cages that Kiva systems belong to.

The company notes

Initially, Proteus will be deployed in GoCart’s outbound processing areas in our fulfillment and sorting centers. Our vision is to automate GoCart across the web, which will help reduce the need for people to manually move heavy items around our facility and instead allow them to focus on more rewarding work.

Meanwhile, Cardinal is a robotic work cell that sorts heavy packages up to 50 pounds during the delivery process. The company is currently testing a pilot system and plans to roll it out to its sorting facilities next year.

Also today, the Amazon Robotics identification system was demonstrated on stage. The device is a bit like an airport scanner, allowing employees to quickly enter packages using “natural motions”. The company notes, “AR ID eliminates the need for manual scanning by using a unique camera system that works at 120 frames per second, which improves employee mobility and helps reduce the risk of injury.”

Finally, another hand based selection system. It is essentially a large mobile system on a shelf that uses the hand to retrieve containers for handing over to an employee. The company notes: “Our new containerized storage system provides a safer and more ergonomic position for employees through a carefully choreographed dance of robotics and software.”

What’s most interesting when viewing these updates from afar is the integration that Amazon has managed to pull off a whole host of different challenges. Of course, Amazon has the notable advantage of being able to develop its own systems for its own warehouse, which, along with its massive resources, will prove extremely difficult for smaller companies.

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