Amazon’s new warehouse robot looks like a Roomba, but lifts like an Olympian.
The company’s first fully-autonomous robot arrives a decade after Amazon bought robot coordination and fulfillment company Kiva (opens in new tab) and made its first nearly billion-dollar bet on robotic automation.
Amazon now employs roughly 200,000 robots (opens in new tab) across its 1,137 fulfillment centers (opens in new tab) but, up until now, the bots have never worked freely alongside human Amazon workers.
Proteus, though, is different. In a release on the new bot (opens in new tab), Amazon explained that Proteus was built for autonomy and to work around employees.
Amazon also released a video showing Proteus in action. Looking like a giant iRobot Roomba, but with friendly, monochrome eyes blinking in the front, the flat robot rolls under an Amazon GoCart stuffed full of products (basically a product cage). The robot rolls to what one assumes is the center space under the cart, does a 90-degree spin, and then lifts the entire cart off the ground. Amazon doesn’t say the robot’s max lift capacity, but it’s clearly lifting a heavy weight like it’s so much dust on the floor.
The cargo is also perfectly balanced so that when Proteus rolls forward, the cart doesn’t tip or topple over. Later, it navigates to a charging station and plugs itself in.
To demonstrate Proteus’ cooperative nature, the robot casually stops when a human worker crosses its path. They appear to regard each other for a moment before each continues on its way.
All of this is possible thanks to, Amazon notes, the company’s proprietary, advanced safety, perception, and navigation technology.
For now, Proteus is confined to Amazon warehouses with GoCart handling areas but the retail giant plans to expand Proteus throughout its inventory and fulfillment network.
Proteus won’t be the only new Amazon robot on the floor. The company also unveiled Cardinal (opens in new tab), a single-arm robot that, using AI and computer vision, can identify, lift, and sort heavy packages (up to 50 lbs).
Land of the bots
Our reliance on Amazon exploded over the last few years as we struggled with the limits placed on us all by COVID-19. Even as the pandemic subsides, Amazon is still central to our shopping habits.
The company raked in $470B last year (opens in new tab) and is clearly applying some of that profit to transforming its distribution center workforces into more automated spaces. Perhaps not coincidentally these efforts come as Amazon is grappling with the rise of unionized workers (opens in new tab) at some of its warehouses.
Amazon’s robots aren’t intended to replace workers, but surely some of that will happen as Cardinals take over for lifting and sorting heavy boxes and Proteus manages transporting thousands of GoCarts full of the products we all order every day.
One thing that is certain is that everyone and every robot at Amazon are about to shift into high gear for Amazon Prime Day.