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Changing the Future of Warehouses with Amazon Robots

July 28, 2017
The Amazon Robotics Challenge looks to develop the next stage of warehouse delivery by progressing sorting, picking, and stowing of inventory items at this year’s RoboCup in Japan.

Amazon is the world’s largest internet-based retailer by total sales and market capitalization, serving millions of customers across the world. According to Forbes, $4 out of every $10 spent online in the U.S. goes to Amazon, and at present, there are approximately 80 million Amazon Prime members (64% of all households in the United States).

The success of Amazon is such that its CEO, Jeff Bezos, just topped Bill Gates as the richest man in the world (at least briefly). The company’s business reach encompasses everything from retail and cloud analytics to web services…and of course, robotics. To serve as many customers as Amazon does, it needs to automate its facilities.

In 2012, Amazon acquired Kiva Systems to introduce robots into their shipping facilities. The result was a year-over-year increase in robotic services, robotic-human shared workspaces, and spearheading the collaborative environment for other companies.

Amazon’s Robotic Vision

This past January, the Seattle Times reported that Amazon had 45,000 robots across its 20 fulfillment centers. This is an increase from January 2016, where Amazon reported having 30,000 robots in conjunction with 230,000 employees. After acquiring Kiva Systems, the company rebranded the company as Amazon Robotics. Its goal is to automate centers using several emerging technologies, including robotics, mobile robots, sophisticated control software, language perception, power management, computer vision systems, depth sensing systems, machine learning/artificial intelligence, object recognition, and semantic understanding of human commands and speech.

The main star of the show is the Kiva Robot. The Kiva is 16 in. tall and weighs 145 kilograms. It’s a low-profile moving robot with a max speed of 5 mph and can haul packages weighting up to 137 kilograms. Amazon also implores robotic arms and smart conveyor systems to move large items of inventory. According to Business Insider, Amazon adds 15,000 robots every year.

The Amazon Robotic Challenge and RoboCup

Amazon continues to push the reach of robotics. The current robots being used by Amazon and other warehouse operators are missing one thing: hand-gripping abilities. The goal of the Amazon Robotics Challenge is to see how robots will reach the next level of inventory work by being able to properly sort items. The challenge is currently taking place at RoboCup 2017. A yearly event that takes place in Nagoya, Japan, RoboCup features competitions for fostering the development of intelligent robots. The leagues break down as follows:

RoboCup Soccer (Humanoid, Standard Platform, Middle Size, Small Size and Simulation Divisions) The first competition held at RoboCup features autonomous mobile robots. Robots compete in soccer tournaments not only for entertainment but also to experiment the latest in humanoid applications.

RoboCup Industrial This league implements robotic advancements in the workplace and industrial environment. The league is divided into two sections: RoboCup Logistics and RoboCup@Work.

RoboCup Rescue This league promotes simulations that will contribute toward development of rescue strategies based on earthquake and other large-scale disaster scenarios. The goal is to foster the development of autonomous robots for use in rescue efforts that would place human rescuers in harm’s way. The league is separated into the Rescue Robot League and Rescue Simulation League.

RoboCup@Home This league aims to take developments from other leagues like RoboCup Soccer and integrate them into people’s homes.

RoboCupJunior This junior league reflects the activities of the other leagues, but with a primary aim of stimulating the curiosity of children and encouraging STEM education.

The 2017 competition has several teams hailing from academia and industry from all parts to world looking to win the grand prize of $250,000. The competition will take place over the weekend, and you can follow the action via Amazon Robotics’ Twitter.

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