Amazon has revealed its “first fully autonomous mobile robot,” meant to move big carts throughout its warehouses. The robot is anointed Proteus, and Amazon says it can safely steer around human employees, unlike some of its earlier robots that it kept separated in a caged space.
Amazon says Proteus robots hold “progressive safety, perception, and navigation technology,” and a (strangely silent) video reveals the robots shining a green light in front of themselves as they drive around. When a human effort into the beam, the robot stops moving, then restarts after the person moves away.
The company has also revealed several other robotic systems. One, named Cardinal, is a robotic arm that can lift and move packets weighing up to 50 pounds, which Amazon expects to deploy in warehouses next year. In addition, the company says that its computer vision systems let it choose and lift respective packages, even if they’re in a pile.
Amazon’s post also delivers off tech that could allow employees to ditch the hand scanners they operate to log barcodes. Instead, workers stand in front of a camera approach that determines the packages without waiting to scan the tag. There isn’t a lot of attribute on how it functions other than some combination of machine learning and a 120 fps camera system. Still, the consequence is similar to what we’ve noticed from the company’s Walk Out tech that lets it build cashier-less stores. We’ve reached out to Amazon to ask rigorously what the system is looking at and will let you know if we hear back.
As is frequently the case with new robot technology, there are potential labor concerns. Despite recent information that Amazon could soon struggle to find workers, the company says it’s not looking to create robots but instead hire people. A lead at Amazon’s robotics division explicitly informed Forbes that “replacing people with machines is just a fallacy” that could lead to a firm going out of business.
However, robots could play a part in setting a speed of work that humans toil to safely keep up with, something we’ve already seen happen at the company with automated management systems. The new scanning system especially seems like it could create unrealistic expectations about how fast workers should be moving.
For its part, Amazon claims all its new robots could help improve safety. For example, Cardinal performs in places where workers would otherwise lift and twist heavy containers, a movement that can lead to injuries, and Proteus could “reduce the need for people to move heavy objects manually.” The company’s also working on a robot that would furnish containers to workers rather than having them flex or climb to reach items.
Amazon’s CEO recently pledged to address the injury rates at the company’s repositories systematically. However, he has underestimated reports that its workers are hurt at double the industry rate by calling the company’s rates “misunderstood.”
Proteus is a modular robotics platform designed for the education market. Specifically high school and university level classrooms.
The core of the Proteus platform is a brain module; it holds the onboard computation unit and can connect to many other modules through a high-power, high-data-throughput electromechanical connector.
There are several classes of modules: Power modules (battery), Locomotion (wheels, legs, tracks), Universe manipulation (robotic arms, grippers), Sensing modules (camera, LIDAR, range sensors, color sensors, etc.).
Amazon Robotics, formerly Kiva Systems, is a Massachusetts-based company manufactures mobile robotic fulfillment systems. It is a subsidiary company of Amazon.com. Its automated storage and retrieval systems were previously used by companies including The Gap, Walgreens, Staples, Gilt Groupe, Office Depot, Crate & Barrel, and Saks 5th Avenue. However, after those contracts ran out, Amazon did not renew them, and Kiva’s assets now work only for Amazon’s warehouses.
After working on the business strategy team at Webvan, Mick Mountz concluded that the company’s downfall was due to the intransigence of existing material handling systems and the high cost of order fulfillment. These challenges motivated Mountz to create a method to pick, pack, and ship orders through a system that could produce any item to any operator at any time. To execute his vision, Mountz sought help from Peter Wurman and Raffaello D’Andrea. In 2003, Mountz became the founder and CEO of Kiva Systems through his partnership with co-founders Wurman and D’Andrea.
Traditionally, goods are moved around a distribution center using a conveyor system or by human-operated machines (such as forklifts). In Kiva’s approach, items are stored in portable storage units. When an order is entered into the Kiva database system, the software locates the closest automated guided vehicle (bot) to the item and directs it to retrieve it. The mobile robots navigate the warehouse following a series of computerized barcode stickers on the floor. Each drive unit has a sensor that prevents it from colliding with others. When the drive unit reaches the target location, it slides underneath the pod and lifts it off the ground through a corkscrew action. The robot then carries the pod to the specified human operator to pick up the items.
Kiva marketed systems based on two different robot models. The smaller model was approximately 2 feet by 2.5 feet and 18 inches high and competent in lifting 1,000 pounds. The larger model was capable of carrying a pallet with loads as heavy as 3,000 pounds. Both were a distinctive orange color. The maximum velocity of the robots was 1.3 meters per second. The mobile bots were battery-powered and needed to be recharged every hour for five minutes.
The system is considered much more efficient and accurate than the traditional method of having human workers traveling around the warehouse locating and picking items.
In March 2012, Amazon.com acquired Kiva Systems for $775 million. At the time, this was Amazon’s second-largest acquisition in its history.
Since the acquisition by Amazon, Kiva has remained silent. The company has not announced any new Kiva customers and has stopped its marketing activities. In addition, most of Kiva’s sales staff have departed, though the company continues to hire in the engineering and manufacturing departments. Industry observers speculate that Amazon focuses on internal operations and is not interested in sharing the technology with competitors.
In August 2015, the company officially changed its name from Kiva Systems LLC to Amazon Robotics LLC.
As of June 2019, Amazon had more than 200,000 robots working in its warehouses.