Fully autonomous robots, high-tech scanners and more

The new containerized storage system looks “almost like shoeboxes,” says Tye Brady, chief technologist at Amazon Robotics.COURTESY OF AMAZON

Amazon will showcase four new robotic technologies, including fully autonomous robots and high-tech scanners, at its re:MARS event in Las Vegas. The new technology comes ten years after Amazon’s purchase of Kiva, which sparked an arms race among retailers to deliver products ever faster and more efficiently through automation.

Besides the autonomous robot and scanners, the technology presented by Amazon includes a robotic work cell for moving heavy loads and a container storage system. The latter is currently in beta testing in Texas, while the others are in the early stages of alpha testing.

“That’s the real stuff,” said Tye Brady, chief technologist at Amazon Robotics. Forbes ahead of his speech at re:MARS. “There’s a big difference between doing something in a lab or something you show on YouTube and something we’ll deploy in our fulfillment centers.”

Given the scale of Amazon, which posted $470 billion in revenue last year, any new technology has to work thousands of times every day, reliably, efficiently and securely. All new logistics technologies were developed in-house by Amazon’s robotics group.

The fully autonomous robot, called Proteus, is Amazon’s first. The green and black chunky robot can navigate autonomously through Amazon’s warehouses and lift the GoCarts to move them to the exit dock, arranging them with the help of machine learning to configure the packages to be loaded in the correct order.

While most autonomous robots will freeze when they see groups of people, says Brady, Proteus will be able to get around them. “He’s going to very slowly push his way through this crowd of people, very slowly, very intentionally,” he says. “Machine learning is so new that we’ve shared it with Lab126,” Amazon’s research and development team for high-end consumer electronics devices.

The heavy-lift work cell, known as Cardinal, uses artificial intelligence and computer vision to select a package from a stack, lift it and place it in a cart, enabling sorting parcels sooner and reduce the risk of injury. Amazon is currently testing the Cardinal Robotic Arm for handling packages weighing up to 50 pounds.

This technology is an extension of a existing robotic arm, known as Robin, who has been in the field for about a year, says Brady. “It gave us the confidence that we can pick up heavy loads with these robotic arms,” he says.

high technology scanning system, meanwhile, uses artificial intelligence and cameras running at 120 frames per second to automatically scan packages as warehouse workers move around. It works in the background, effectively eliminating the need for workers to use handheld scanners to log barcodes as packages head to their destination.

“It looks so simple, and we’re so proud because it looks so simple,” Brady says.

Finally, the containerized storage system changes the way items move, placing containers in larger modules that can move through the fulfillment center. The larger pods can carry more cargo, worth around 2,000 pounds, compared to 1,200 pounds in its existing yellow pods. The software determines which container contains the necessary product, where this container is located in the container and how to grab it and pull it towards the employee.

Amazon’s new mobile robot, dubbed Proteus, can lift GoCarts and move them around its warehouses.COURTESY OF AMAZON

Over the past decade, Amazon claims to have deployed more than 520,000 robotic drive units and added more than one million jobs worldwide. The company has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the development of new robotics during this period, but declined to provide a more specific figure. “I like to think we’re playing a pretty big role in Amazon’s growth,” Brady says. As the group continues to develop new technologies in what it sees as the golden age of robotics, “what won’t change is our customer obsession,” he says.

In addition to its own robotics group, Amazon earlier this year established a billion-dollar industry innovation fund to invest in supply chain, fulfillment and logistics. Amazon-backed startups include Modjoul, a wearable security technology company created by the former claims manager of insurance giant AIG, and Israeli company BionicHive, which has developed an autonomous robot called Squid that can move around the along three-dimensional shelves.

While critics of automation have pointed to the technology’s potential to replace workers, Brady points out that the retail giant’s machines and people are meant to work together. “Replacing people with machines is just a mistake,” he says. “You’ll probably end up closing up shop if you have this replacement philosophy.”

Amazon has exploded during the pandemic as consumers increasingly order products online. But as consumers began to retreat from online spending, Amazon began to scale back its expansion. huge network of warehouses.

The company reported a $3.8 billion loss in his first trimester. “Today, when we are no longer chasing physical capacity or staffing, our teams are fully focused on improving productivity and profitability across our fulfillment network,” said Amazon CEO Andy Jassy in a statement at the time.

Shares of Amazon, which closed at $109, are down 35% so far this year.

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