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Amazon Robotics Challenge Uncovers New Pick and Pack Bot

Automation is leading a new path for retail and Amazon is recognizing one group in particular for Cartman, its innovative pick and pack bot.

Last week, the e-tailer held its 2017 Amazon Robotics Challenge at the RoboCup competition in Japan. And what they got out of it was Cartman. The Australian Centre for Robotic Vision’s (ACRV) advanced robot took the competition’s first place prize and was granted $80,000 for the robot, which seamlessly picks and packs a lot of items in a short period of time.

Unlike other robots, Cartman’s movement is similar to a bridge crane. The robot can move along three axes at right angles to each other, while a rotating gripper enables the robot to pick up items by a simple two-finger grip or suction. This physical advantage means Cartman can pick and pack items seamlessly, without having to move in one direction or worry about dropping products in its path.

“With six degrees of articulation and both a claw and suction gripper, Cartman gives us more flexibility to complete the tasks than most robots can offer, said ACRV team leader and Queensland University of Technology professor Dr. Juxi Leitner. “Cartman is robust and tackles the task in an innovative way and is also cost effective.”

[Read more on Amazon’s supply chain technology: Just How Much Time and Money Are Amazon’s Fulfillment Centers Saving?]

Amazon’s Robotics Challenge combined object recognition, grasp planning, task planning, task execution and error detection and recovery. Robots were evaluated based on how many products they successfully picked and stowed in a timed period. Cartman’s vision system was able to adapt quickly, since it could work with objects that the team was only able to see during the competition.

“Our vision system had the perfect trade-off of training data, training time and accuracy. One feature of our system was that it worked off a very small amount of hand annotated training data,” said University of Adelaide professor Dr. Anton Milan.  “We only needed just seven images of each unseen item for us to be able to detect them.”

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Held on an annual basis, the Amazon Robotics Challenge aims to bridge the gap between the academic and industrial robotic communities and promotes collective solutions for automation challenges. In addition to the competition, Amazon is also working on bringing robots to its logistics operations.

With more than 100,000 Amazon robots in upward of 25 fulfillment centers worldwide, Amazon is establishing a future where robots like Cartman could help drive delivered units and deliver items directly to workers, so online orders can be carried out even more seamlessly. Amazon plans to add more robots to its fulfillment centers nationwide and already uses these devices at its major warehouse hubs in Miami and North Haven.