Amazon debuts first fully autonomous mobile robot in supply chain

amazon robot
Amazon is actively developing a variety of robots.

Amazon’s newest fulfillment center robot safely operates outside of restricted areas.

In a corporate blog post, the e-tail giant announced “Proteus,” its first fully autonomous mobile robot. Proteus moves autonomously through Amazon’s fulfillment and sort facilities using advanced safety, perception, and navigation technology developed by Amazon.

The Proteus robot was built to be automatically directed to perform its work and move around employees, meaning it has no need to be confined to restricted areas. Amazon is initially deploying Proteus in outbound handling areas for GoCarts (manual wheeled package transports) in its fulfillment centers and sort centers. The company seeks to automate GoCart handling throughout the network, which it says will help reduce the need for people to manually move heavy objects.

Amazon is also introducing Cardinal, a robotic lifting arm that uses artificial intelligence (AI) and computer vision to efficiently select one package out of a pile of packages, lift it, read the label, and precisely place it in a GoCart.

Leveraging Cardinal, Amazon says it can sort packages earlier in the shipping process with reduced risk of employee injury, resulting in faster process time in the facility. The company says shipping operations also run more smoothly because Cardinal converts batch-based manual work into continuous, automated work. Currently, Amazon is testing a prototype of Cardinal for handling packages of up to 50 pounds, and expects to deploy the technology in fulfillment centers inn 2023.

Based on feedback from employees, the company created Amazon Robotics Identification (AR ID), an AI-based scanning capability with computer vision and ML technology to enable easier scanning of packages in supply chain facilities.

Currently, all packages in Amazon’s facilities are scanned at each destination in the supply chain. In fulfillment centers, this scanning is currently manually performed with a handheld scanner. AR ID removes the manual scanning process by using a camera system that runs at 120 frames per second.

AR ID is designed to let employees can handle packages freely with both hands, instead of one hand while holding a scanner in the other; or they can work to position the package to scan it by hand.

Containerized storage
In many Amazon fulfillment centers, employees currently pick or stow items onto mobile shelves as products move through the process of fulfilling customer orders. To reduce the need for employees to reach up, bend down, or climb ladders when retrieving items, the company is developing a robotic system designed to deliver products to employees in a more ergonomic manner.

Amazon’s new Containerized Storage System determines which pod has the container with the needed product, where that container is located in the pod, how to grab and pull the container to the employee, and how to pick it up once the employee has retrieved the product.

We have more than 520,000 robotic drive units, and have added over a million jobs, worldwide,” Amazon said in the blog post. “We have more than a dozen other types of robotic systems in our facilities around the world, including sort centers and air hubs. (O)ur vision was never tied to a binary decision of people or technology. Instead, it was about people and technology working safely and harmoniously together to deliver for our customers. That vision remains today.”

[Read more: Amazon partners with University of Washington for new science hub]

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