Amazon first entered the mobile robot space in 2012, when it acquired Kiva Systems for $775 million. Kiva offered automated guided vehicles (AGVs) that could navigate a warehouse using a series of computerized barcode stickers on the floor.
Now, a decade later, Amazon has announced its first fully autonomous mobile robot (AMR), Proteus. Proteus is an AMR with a similar design to the Kiva robots have have been at work in Amazon’s warehouses for years. Proteus is able to slide under Amazon’s GoCarts, pick them up and move them across the warehouse to employees or other robotic cells, reducing the amount of walking Amazon workers need to do across warehouses to retrieve items.
Unlike the Kiva robots, which currently operate in caged off spaces away from Amazon employees, Proteus is able to work freely among them.
Amazon plans to deploy the AMRs initially in the outbound GoCart handling areas in its fulfillment centers and sorting centers. A source told the Mobile Robot Guide Amazon will use both the Proteus AMRs and the Kiva-like AGVs moving forward.
“To be honest, the structured fields (our legacy systems) are more efficient – and often cheaper – when you can use them. But the AMRs make sense in areas where you’re performing work you can’t reasonably, physically separate the people from – when there’s higher variability, more exception handling, etc. So AMRs are an additional tool in our toolbox to choose from when we want to add automaton somewhere.”
Advancements at Amazon
With the announcement, Amazon gave a look into some of the other technology it plans on deploying in its warehouses. The first of which is Cardinal, a robotic workcell that can pick packages from a pile, read the package’s label and then places it in a GoCart so the package can continue its journey.
Cardinal helps reduce the amount of lifting and twisting Amazon employees need to do. Cardinal is currently at the prototype phase, where it’s able to handle packages up to 50 lbs. The company hopes to deploy the robot in its fulfillment centers next year.
The company also gave a look at its containerized storage system. Currently, employees in Amazon’s fulfillment centers pick and stow items onto mobile shelves manually. The robotic containerized storage system eliminates the need to employees to reach up, bend down or climb ladders to retrieve items.
Instead, the system determines which pod has the container with the product needed to be picked and uses a robotic arm to grab and pull the container to an employee. After the employee retrieves the item, the robotic system returns the container to its spot.