Amazon will Award $250,000 to Invent Next-Gen Robotic Warehouse Worker

A robotic warehouse worker? Amazon is most commonly known for its online retail delivery service, but did you know that the company is also very interested in Robotics? Amazon, which is currently employing 80,000 automated robots in its warehouses across the world helping to prepare customers’ orders, is looking to further optimize its automated processes.

The e-commerce giant is hosting its third-annual Robotics Challenge in Japan this July, with the end purpose of awarding a $250,000 prize to a team of scientists who can successfully create an advanced robotic warehouse worker. Sixteen finalists have already been chosen and announced, including teams from reputable institutions such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Duke University and Tokyo University. Competitors will need to demonstrate that their robotic hardware and software is capable of picking up items and stowing them in storage.

The machines built by these competing teams are required to make use of their object recognition, pose recognition, grasp planning, complaint manipulation, motion planning, task planning, error detection and recovery skills in order to complete the challenges. Individual robots will be scored based on how many items they can successfully retrieve and store during a set amount of time.

These developments are interesting news as Amazon,  which is expected to add to 100,000 full-time jobs in the United States by mid-2018, is also well known for pursuing technologies that would ultimately allow the company to replace personnel altogether. Currently in Amazon’s warehouses human employees will be found working alongside robots referred to as Kiva  –  as well as large robotic arms that can move large pallets in inventory. By picking up and delivering entire warehouse racks to employees, the robots reduce  the amount of time a worker might spend walking to collect the needed item.

When putting these issues into context, Amazon has a very simple reason to pursue the idea of a robotic warehouse worker. Fully automated fulfillment centers could allow the company to ship millions of items to people around the globe without delay. Especially during the holiday season when the shopping frenzy reaches maximum levels, robots could be the solution to sending out everyone’s gifts on time.

Aside from warehouses, Amazon is also pushing for automation in other areas of its business. In 2016, the company announced the advent of its first delivery service by automated drones in the United Kingdom. A recently unearthed patent also indicates that they have plans to use automated drones to deliver packages from large airships or floating warehouses.

Amazon’s ‘love affair’ with robots is likely to soon be replicated by other companies, resulting in almost every commercial sector being affected by robotic automation in the near future. A robotic warehouse worker might not have been fully adopted into the workspace just yet, but research in the field means that they are gaining more skills, as well as exhibiting greater productivity and retention rates, thus attracting the attention of businesses worldwide. A few weeks ago, popular pizza brand Domino’s announced that it will begin using robots to deliver pizzas throughout Europe starting this Summer, 2017. Many other retailers and restaurants are waiting to see how robot delivery technology shapes up, before embarking on their own robotic journey.

The future of losing our jobs to robots may seem a gloomy one; however, things might not be as bad as they look. One positive result likely to emerge will be that millions of men and women will no longer be held up in boring or repetitive jobs for the majority of their adult lives. Instead robots like Kiva could end up pushing the human workforce towards developing their creative skills, or striving towards more entrepreneurial style roles with more risk taking.

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