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Amazon launches fully autonomous warehouse robot — RT World News

The company hopes to automate the handling of heavy objects so that human employees can “focus on more rewarding work”

Amazon launched its “first fully autonomous mobile robot” in warehouses, the company announced Wednesday at its re:MARS event in Las Vegas.

Called Proteus, the new bot would use “advanced security, perception and navigation technology developed by Amazon” to move smoothly among and around fellow human beings.

Proteus will begin lifting and moving GoCarts, human-driven wheeled carriers that move packages through Amazon’s warehouses, outbound areas of fulfillment and sorting centers. The company hopes to automate the handling of GoCarts, supposedly freeing human employees from the drudgery of lifting heavy objects so they can “focus on more rewarding work.”

The Amazon-produced video of the Proteus shows a rounded, low-to-the-ground cart platform armed with different colors of flashing lights and a powerful yet seemingly gentle lifting mechanism (the video is silent). When a person steps in front of the robot, it stops moving until it begins to move away.

Proteus is designed to avoid existing pitfalls of autonomous robot design, according to Amazon Robotics chief technologist Tye Brady, who explained that the bot “to very slowly make its way through [a] crowd of people, very slowly, very intentionally” instead of freezing when encountering a group of humans like some robots do.

In a flattering glimpse of “10 years of Amazon robotics” the company admitted that it has always been “difficult to safely integrate robotics into the same physical space as people.”

In one particular case, 24 Amazon employees were hospitalized in 2018, when a robotic co-worker at their warehouse in Robbinsville, New Jersey accidentally ripped open a can of bear mace and sprayed them with the contents.

The company then equipped its human workers with “Robotic Technical Vests” designed with sensors that work with the robots’ obstacle detection functions to warn machines to avoid wandering humans. However, a recent viral video appears to show sets of robotic shelves attempting to “trap” an employee on the warehouse floor, and the flesh-and-blood employees have long complained about the inhuman pace imposed by their machine colleagues.

Amazon insists there is no intention to replace human workers with robots, autonomous or not.

“Replacing people with machines is just a mistake” Brady told Forbes on Wednesday, arguing that companies with such “replacement philosophy” would have “will probably end up closing shop.

Proteus wasn’t the only robot featured at Amazon’s conference. Another device called Cardinal, with a robotic arm capable of lifting up to 50 pounds, is designed to sort packages earlier in the shipping process. Meanwhile, Amazon Robotics’ ID system eliminates the need for handheld scanners by allowing workers to grab packages with “natural movements” using a high-speed camera, and the containerized storage system retrieves packages for employees.

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