A new robot has been selected from the Robotics Challenge organized by Amazon. Each year, Amazon holds a challenge to solve a robotics problem. The machines must pick and stow difference objects to check their functionality. The process is a tough one but it can help Amazon fully automate its warehouses.
Amazon is among the world's largest e-commerce companies with a substantial investment in automation processes. However, it has not perfected the process of creating robots that are capable of picking items for customers' orders. The robots' abilities are limited and they cannot efficiently grasp and ferry different objects with different sizes.
This year's challenge was made even more challenging after researcher groups were only given 30 minutes to get familiar with the objects. The tasks were even more difficult as objects had to be picked and sometimes stacked on top of others as in a real situation. Though troublesome, the activity would finally deliver on fully automating the company's warehouses. Amazon has cited that the robots will help during the arrival of new pallets and their subsequent inventory and organization in case they are disorganized.
CartMan, the Inhuman Robot
The winner of the competitive challenge was from the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision, which created a robot named CartMan. This robot was perhaps the least human-like device among all the others. It is entirely dissimilar from conventional robots that have arms that carry out tasks. Its grippers have the ability to make 3D movements like a claw crane. Dr. Anton Milan, one of its creators, mentions that its computer vision systems are momentous in delivering a successful device. Dr. Milan explains that the device only needed seven images to detect a hidden object successfully. At the moment, the robot can carry stacked shelves with things like aluminum foil and toothpaste.
This fast-learning robotic ability is of interest to machine experts. In 2016, DeepMind showcased a system popularly known as "one-shot," which can quickly identify objects after seeing an image only once. However, CartMan may need a little more data if it needs to successfully detect and pick up objects that are concealed behind other objects.
Amazon's Future With CartMan
The robots are slowly working in favor of Amazon to help them adapt to quickly changing customer needs. With these changing client needs, Amazon is determined to shift its focus of price wars to time wars with its biggest competitors. An automated warehouse can improve the operation time and efficiency of any company. Automation of such processes shows that the firm is focused on reducing the time between when a customer orders a product and the time they receive it.
Amazon's robots eliminate the need for human employees to spend a lot of time traveling to different parts of warehouses to pick orders. Possessing these robots also means that the traditional stacking of shelves in stores will be transformed. Consequently, Amazon will lower the incurred costs at its centers and maximize on its warehouse space.
Amazon is quick to note that these robots have not replaced human jobs. However, it has also pointed out that its human staff count has not significantly increased. Human employees regard these robots as their coworkers and as an addition to the company.
With CartMan in possession of Amazon, warehouse operations will be quick. This trickles down to the overall delivery time of product orders. Customer needs are quickly changing. People now not only focus on prices but also how quickly a product is delivered after an order is made. With several e-commerce companies around with low rates, it is ultimately the delivery time that separates the good from the excellent.
It will be interesting to watch how the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision further advances CartMan. It will mark a significant stride if CartMan can pick objects obscured behind other items with minimal difficulty.