The Amazon Hercules robot lifts shelves for picking.
It's not a myth — an Amazon robot with Herculean strength is playing a very real role in aiding warehouse workers in picking orders for shipping.
The proprietary Amazon robot model called Hercules helps warehouse employees by traveling around facilities to retrieve shelves of products and delivering them to employees, who then pick the items customers ordered for shipping.
Hercules can lift up to 1,250 pounds and travel across the 1 million square feet of Amazon’s largest fulfillment centers. Amazon stores goods on four-sided shelves called pods, which contain inventory ready for customers. When a customer order is made, Hercules slides under the appropriate pod, lifts it off the ground, and drives the pod to an employee, who picks the item and sends it off for packing.
The robot makes key decisions about how it moves independently, but takes overall direction from centralized planning software. After an order arrives at a specific fulfillment center, the software begins to orchestrate the movement of robot drives to help meet the delivery date. At each Amazon fulfillment site, thousands of Hercules drives are coordinating how they move as a connected fleet.
Hercules has a forward-facing 3D camera that identifies people, pods, other robots, and any other items in the way. It is also programmed to respond safely if the electricity goes out. The robot uses its camera to read a grid of encoded markers on the floor, which enables it to navigate, find its position, and locate any pod.
In addition, Hercules can identify the location of humans who wear Wi-Fi transmitters called Tech Vests, and robots beyond the range of its sensors, so it can plan a route that steers clear of them.
“One of the things that we’ve been proud of over our 10-year history is the ability to develop robots that work well alongside people,” said Scott Dresser, VP of Amazon Robotics, in a corporate blog post. “This starts with Hercules, which reduces walk time in the buildings and makes a better employee experience.
Amazon focuses on next-gen fulfillment center robotics
Amazon has been actively developing new, leading-edge robotic solutions for use in its fulfillment centers, including the following:.
In November 2022, Amzazon rolled out “Sparrow,” a new intelligent robotic system that can detect, select, and handle individual products in its inventory. Leveraging computer vision and artificial intelligence (AI), Sparrow can recognize and handle millions of unique items for picking, stowing and packing before they are shipped – at scale.
In June 2022, the company 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. Amazon is initially deploying Proteus in outbound handling areas for GoCarts (manual wheeled package transports) in its fulfillment centers and sort centers.
In June, Amazon also introduced Cardinal, a robotic lifting arm that uses 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.
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.
AR ID removes the manual scanning process by using a camera system that runs at 120 frames per second, and is designed to let employees can handle packages freely with both hands.
Amazon’s 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.