To the outside world, it’s been a huge success in the company’s push for same-day and next-day package delivery, and has prompted rivals to find their own third-party robotic solutions, backing startups such as Locus, Fetch and Berkshire Grey.
Tye Brady, head of Amazon Robotics, took the stage at Wednesday’s event to present the future of its internal automation systems. At the heart of the news are two new bots. Proteus and Cardinal, an autonomous floor system and a robotic arm, respectively. The new robot is being integrated into the same racking/unit system that has been in use since Kiva.
Now, however, Proteus brings fully autonomous functionality to the floor. The company noted in a blog post:
Proteus uses advanced safety, perception and navigation technologies developed by Amazon to move autonomously through our facilities. The robot is designed to automatically guide its work and move around employees — meaning it doesn’t have to be confined to restricted areas. It can be operated in a way that enhances the simple, safe interaction between technology and people – opening up a wider range of possible uses for helping our employees – such as lifting and moving GoCarts, which are used to move packages around our facilities non-automatic wheeled transport.
TechCrunch speculates that Proteus is likely the result of the company’s 2019 acquisition of Boulder, Colorado-based autonomous cart company Canvas. As TechCrunch noted at the time, “Canvas (…) brings its own built-in safety through its autonomous vision system. The hardware is designed to interact more directly with workers on the ground”. It is conceivable that the company will also adopt this technology in some of its existing systems.
From the looks of it, some of Canvas’ technology is integrated into the Kiva form factor, so the robots can work with Amazon’s existing systems with minimal modifications. With the additional autonomy comes the ability to operate in a less controlled environment, meaning the technology can be implemented in other environments than the cages the Kiva system is currently housed in.
The company noted:
Proteus will initially be deployed in the outbound GoCart processing area of our fulfillment centers and sorting centers. Our vision is to automate GoCart processing across the network, which will help reduce the need for people to manually move heavy items around our facilities, allowing them to focus on more valuable work.
Meanwhile, Cardinal is a robotic work cell that sorts packages weighing up to 50 pounds in transit. The company is currently testing a pilot of the system and expects to deploy it in sorting facilities sometime next year.
Also on stage Wednesday was Amazon’s robot-recognition system. The device looks a bit like an airport scanner, allowing employees to quickly enter packages using “natural movements.” “By using a unique camera system that operates at 120 frames per second, AR ID eliminates the manual scanning process, brings greater mobility to employees and helps reduce the risk of injury,” the company noted.
Finally, another robotic arm based sorting system. It’s actually a large, mobile, shelf-based system that uses arms to retrieve containers for handing to human employees. “Our new container storage system puts employees in safer and more ergonomic positions through a dance of highly choreographed robots and software,” the company noted.