Amazon is calling out robots to fight for a $25,000 prize and, potentially, the jobs of its human warehouse staff.
The retail giant already uses robots in its warehouses but when it comes to packing and unpacking items it still relies on the fleshy mitts of man to get the job done. This could be set to change.
The Amazon robot competition, due to kick-off in May, invites bot creators to show off their efforts and win the prize. While stacking and unstacking shelves sounds relatively straight forward, even for a robot, apparently it isn't.
The variation in item size and location means the robot will have to be very versatile. Also the level of sensitivity is important when it comes to handling more fragile items.
While Amazon is offering a $25,000 prize for the victor it hasn't announced plans to use the robots immediately. Perhaps the tech will simply be integrated into its own machines.
While this all sounds like a problem for human jobs, it may not be. There have already been incidences of distribution centres buckling under strain, like UPS and FedEx over Christmas. Robot package handlers could simply be used to help ease off the work load. Although if they're cheaper and as trust-worthy as staff we doubt Amazon will be keeping people on just to be nice.
Whatever the outcome this competition should help to push forward development of automated robot warehouses for the future.