Amazon has unveiled its first fully autonomous mobile robot designed to help out in its fulfillment centers, although it’s unclear whether it will be ready in time for the fast approaching and very busy Prime Day shopping event.
The new robot, called Proteus, is a low-slung wheeled machine that walks around on wheels. At first glance, and even secondarily, it looks a lot like a robot vacuum cleaner, but this device performs transport tasks rather than cleaning tasks. And just like a robot vacuum, Proteus uses sensors to help it navigate and avoid obstacles, including mobile ones like humans.
As the video shows, Amazon’s new robot works by rolling under a cart and then elevating to lift it off the ground. Proteus is then able to transport the cart to a designated destination.
The e-commerce giant has invested heavily in robot technology since it bought robotics specialist Kiva in 2012. But most of the warehouse robots it has produced – including Ernie and Bert – have had to work away from people for safety reasons.
Proteus is far more advanced, however, with his advanced technology allowing him to work alongside humans without fear of causing calamity.
Amazons said the robot can operate “in a way that increases a simple and safe interaction between technology and people, opening up a wider range of possible uses to help our employees, such as lifting and moving GoCarts, transportation not wheeled machines used to move packages through our facilities. The company did not say when Proteus will start working, or if it has already started.
Another new robot, Cardinal, is a stationary device that uses artificial intelligence and computer vision to quickly sort packages weighing up to 50 pounds. Designed to reduce the risk of employee injury when handling tasks that require heavy lifting and twisting in a confined space, Cardinal is slated to roll out to Amazon warehouses next year.
Amazon is well aware that some observers believe the company wants to completely replace its human warehouse staff with robots. However, he insists that is not the case, explaining that 10 years after its first major breakthrough in robotic technology, the company has created more than a million jobs worldwide while deploying more of half a million robotic drive units. She also believes that her robotic technology allows her human staff to focus on work considered more rewarding.
“Since the early days of the Kiva acquisition, our vision has never been tied to a binary decision of people or technology,” Amazon said. “Instead, it was about people and technology working together safely and harmoniously to meet the needs of our customers. This vision remains today.
With recent reports suggesting Amazon warehouse workers are suffering serious injuries at double the rate rival companies, Amazon is adamant that deploying more robots for particular tasks will help lower those numbers.