Amazon Shows Off Its Latest Warehouse Automation: Fully Autonomous Robots, High-Tech Scanners And More

According to Tye Brady, chief technologist at Amazon Robotics, the new containerized storage system “almost looks like shoeboxes.”

At the MARS conference in Las Vegas, Amazon will showcase four new pieces of robotics technology. These include fully autonomous robots as well as high-tech scanners. This new technology is ten years following Amazon’s acquisition of Kiva. It has triggered an arms race among retailers to get products faster and more efficiently using automation.

Amazon’s technology demonstrations include a robot work cell to move heavy packages and a containerized storage solution. While the latter is being beta-tested in Texas, other technologies are still in alpha testing.

“This is the real thing,” Tye Brady (Amazon Robotics’ chief technologist) said Forbesbefore his speech at re.MARS. There’s a vast difference between what you do in a lab or post on YouTube and what we will use in our fulfillment centers.

Last year, Amazon’s $470 billion revenue meant that any new technology must work with reliability, efficiency, and safety thousands of times per day. Amazon’s robotics team developed all of the new logistics technology.

Tye Brady, chief technologynologist at Amazon Robotics: “This is the real thing.”

Amazon’s first fully autonomous robot is Proteus. The robot, which is squat and black, can navigate Amazon’s warehouses by itself. It also lifts GoCarts to transport them to the outbound dock. Machine learning helps to arrange the packages, so they are loaded in the correct order.

Brady claims that Proteus can work around groups of people while most autonomous robots freeze up when they encounter them. He says that Proteus will slowly move through the crowd, slowly and very carefully. “The machine-learning is so new we have shared with Lab126,” Amazon’s research and development team for high-profile consumer electronic devices.

Cardinal, the work cell for heavy packages, uses artificial intelligence and computer vision to select a box from an assortment, lift it, and place it in a cart. This allows package sorting to occur earlier and reduces the risk of injury. Amazon is currently testing the Cardinal robotic arms to handle packages up to 50 pounds.

Brady says this technology is an extension to an already existing robotic arm, Robin, which has been used for approximately a year. He says robotic arms have given them the confidence to pick up large packages.

Don’t carry around your handhelds! Amazon’s new scanning technology works behind the scenes while warehouse workers do their work.

High-tech scanners use artificial intelligence and 120 frames per second to scan packages as warehouse workers move. It works in the background and eliminates the need to have workers use handheld scanners to record bar codes as packages move towards their destination.

Brady states, “It looks simple, and we are so proud of it because it looks so easy.”

The containerized storage technology changes how items move by putting them in larger containers that can be transferred through the fulfillment center. Larger pods can hold more goods than the existing yellow ones, which can carry approximately 2,000 pounds. The software will determine which pod contains the product and where it is located within the pod. It also shows how to grab the container and bring it to the employee.

Amazon’s latest mobile robot, Proteus (pronounced “proteus”) can lift GoCarts from its warehouses and move them around.

Amazon claims that over the past decade, it has installed more than 520,000 robot drive units and created more than a million new jobs. Amazon claims it has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on developing new robots during this time but declined to give a specific number. Brady states that he likes to believe that we played a large role in Amazon’s growth. He says that while the group is developing new technology in what he considers a golden age of robotics, “what’s going to change” is his obsession with customers.

Amazon also established a $1B industrial innovation fund earlier this year to invest in logistics, supply chain, and fulfillment. Amazon supports two startups: Modjoul, an Israeli safety tech company founded by former AIG claims head, and BionicHive in Israel, which created an autonomous robot called Squid, that can move along shelves in three dimensions.

Critics of automation point out the potential for technology to replace workers. Brady insists that machines and people at the retail giant are meant to be used together. He says, “Replacing workers with machines is just an illusion.” This replacement philosophy will most likely lead to your company going out of business.

Amazon soared in popularity during the pandemic, as more people ordered goods online. Amazon saw a boom in online sales during the pandemic.

In its first quarter, the company reported a loss in the amount of $3.8 billion. Amazon CEO Andy Jassy stated that the company is no longer looking for staff or physical capacity. Instead, its teams are focusing on increasing productivity and efficiency across our fulfillment network.

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Adam Collins
Adam writes about technology, business and economics. With master's degree in Economics, he's presented six papers in international conferences. As a solivagant in the constant state of fernweh, curiosity is the main weapon in his arsenal.

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