Amazon must be included while talking about fulfilment robots. With the help of many important acquisitions and what seems like limitless resources, the retail behemoth has transformed over the past ten years into the 800-pound gorilla in the industry. And while the epidemic and ensuing labour shortage have spurred warehouse robotics and automation, Amazon Robotics has been at the front of these markets for years.
The business celebrated a decade of its robotics branch, which was essentially created when it acquired Kiva Systems, this week at its annual Re:Mars conference in Las Vegas. More than 520,000 robotic drive units have been installed by Amazon Robotics across its fulfilment and sort centres over the course of its existence. From the outside, the company’s campaign for same- and next-day package delivery appears to have been a huge success. This has prompted the competition to search for their own third-party robots solutions, supporting businesses like Locus, Fetch, and Berkshire Grey.
At today’s presentation, Tye Brady, the leader of Amazon Robotics, gave a preview of what the company’s internal automated systems might look like in the future. Two new robots, Proteus and Cardinal, an autonomous floor system and a robotic arm, respectively, are at the centre of the news. The same shelf/cell system that has been in use since Kiva is being upgraded to accommodate the new robots.
Proteus now puts full autonomy on the table, though. The company writes on its blog,
Proteus autonomously moves through our facilities using advanced safety, perception, and navigation technology developed by Amazon. The robot was built to be automatically directed to perform its work and move around employees — meaning it has no need to be confined to restricted areas. It can operate in a manner that augments simple, safe interaction between technology and people — opening up a broader range of possible uses to help our employees — such as the lifting and movement of GoCarts, the non-automated, wheeled transports used to move packages through our facilities.
If they had to venture an educated guess, They are say that Proteus is likely the result of the company’s 2019 acquisition of Boulder, Colorado-based autonomous cart company, Canvas. As they noted at the time, “Canvas [… ] brings its own built-in safety with its autonomous vision system. The hardware is designed to more directly interact with workers on the floor. It’s easier to imagine the company adopting the technology for some of its existing systems, as well.”
These robots can operate with Amazon’s current systems with little modification because it appears that part of the Canvas technology was incorporated into a Kiva form factor. The capacity to function in less regulated conditions that the extra autonomy offers enables the technology to be applied in additional environments outside of the present cages that the Kiva systems are confined to.
The company states,
Proteus will initially be deployed in the outbound GoCart handling areas in our fulfillment centers and sort centers. Our vision is to automate GoCart handling throughout the network, which will help reduce the need for people to manually move heavy objects through our facility and instead let them focus on more rewarding work.
During the shipping process, Cardinal, a robotic work cell, organises large items weighing up to 50 pounds. The technique is currently being tested as a pilot by the company, and it will eventually be used in its sorting facilities sometime next year.
The Amazon Robotics Identification system was also demonstrated today on stage. Employees may quickly input packages using “natural movements” with the help of the equipment, which resembles an airport scanner. According to the business, “AR ID removes the manual scanning process by using a unique camera system that runs at 120 frames per second, giving employees greater mobility and helping reduce the risk of injury.”
Another arm-based selection mechanism is the last one. It functions as a sizable, mobile shelf-based system that uses the arm to pick up containers and distribute them to a human worker. The company notes, “Our new Containerized Storage System puts employees in a safer and more ergonomic position through a highly choreographed dance of robotics and software.”
The integration that Amazon has achieved across a variety of different jobs is what you find most fascinating when you observe these improvements from a distance. Of course, Amazon has the distinct advantage of being able to create its own processes for its own warehouse, and with its enormous resources, it will be very challenging for smaller businesses to compete.