How Amazon achieved impressive robotic automation

MIT Technology Review wrote an interesting article on Amazon warehouse automation via robots. Here are some interesting benefits:

  • Robots automatically open boxes and recognize product returns
  • Robotic shelves allowing products to be packed in tighter space
  • Shelves automatically move to packers or bring products to pickers (avoids humans walking around)
  • Items retrieved from storage shelves are automatically identified and sorted into batches destined for a single customer
  • computer knows the dimensions of each product and will automatically allocate the right box, and even the right amount of packing tape
However, robots are still incapable of tasks that require fine manipulation or improvisation, so it is useful to devise ways for robots to collaborate with humans more effectively

Amazon custom designed its warehouses with robotic automation in mind. However traditional warehouses were not designed that way which leaves two options for managers — 1) re-platform warehouses for robotic automation or 2) use new robots that can “adapt” to a traditional warehouse environment. #1 is prohibitively expensive and will take a long time to occur as warehouses are re-platformed over time.

According to MIT Tech Review a company called Fetch Robotics is trying to solve option #2 by developing robots that can follow a picker or even identify and pick products on shelves.

Source: At Amazon Warehouses, Humans and Machines Work in Frenetic Harmony | MIT Technology Review

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