Amazon’s first fully autonomous warehouse robot is called Proteus
Amazon has announced its “first fully autonomous mobile robot”, intended to move large shopping carts around its warehouses. The robot is called Proteus, and Amazon says it can safely navigate around human employees, unlike some of its older robots that it kept separated in a caged area.
Amazon claims the Proteus robots have “advanced security, perception, and navigation technologies,” and a (strangely silent) video shows the robots shining a green light in front of them as they move. When a human enters the beam, the robot stops moving, then resumes after the person walks away.
The company also announced several other robotic systems. One, called Cardinal, is a robotic arm capable of lifting and moving packages weighing up to 50 pounds, which Amazon hopes to roll out to warehouses next year. The company says its computer vision systems allow it to pick and lift individual packages, even if they’re stacked.
The Amazon post also showcases technology that could allow employees to ditch the handheld scanners they use to register barcodes. Instead, workers stand in front of a camera system that recognizes packages without stopping to scan the label. There aren’t many details about how it works other than a combination of machine learning and a 120fps camera system, but the effect is similar to what we’ve seen from the Just Walk Out technology. company that allows him to build stores without a cashier. . We’ve reached out to Amazon to ask them exactly what the system is looking at, and we’ll let you know if we get back to you.
As is often the case with new robotic technologies, there are potential labor issues. Despite recent reports that Amazon may soon struggle to find workers, the company says it’s not looking to build robots instead of hiring people. An official from Amazon’s robotics division explicitly stated Forbes that “replacing people with machines is just a mistake” that could lead to business failure. However, robots could play a role in setting a pace of work that humans struggle to safely follow, something we’ve already seen happen in business with automated management systems. The new scanning system seems particularly likely to create unrealistic expectations about how fast workers should move.
For its part, Amazon says all of its new robots could actually help improve security. Cardinal operates in places where workers would otherwise lift and twist heavy packages, a move that can lead to injury, and Proteus could “reduce the need for people to manually move heavy objects.” The company is also working on a robot that would deliver containers to workers rather than having them bend or climb to reach objects.
Amazon’s CEO recently vowed to systematically tackle injury rates in the company’s warehouses, though he played down reports that his workers are injured at double the industry rate by calling the company rates of “misunderstood”.