Amazon Specific Warehouse Bots - So, What's Next?

Amazon Specific Warehouse Bots – So, What’s Next?

It took exactly two minutes for Today’s TC Sessions: Robotics Execution Board to make its first mention on Amazon. The retail giant looms over this category like no other. It played a foundational role with the 2012 acquisition of Kiva Systems that spawned Amazon Robotics, and the 800-pound gorilla still looms large in the background of any conversation about warehouse automation.

Over the past decade, the company has demonstrated impressive dominance. This helped the company set a once-impossible standard for next-day—and even same-day—delivery for many orders. Retailers, large and small, have sought ways to stay competitive, and fuel the growth of an entire industry of warehouse robotics companies such as Locus, Fetch and Berkshire Gray.

The 10-year-old Kiva acquisition continues to be the centerpiece of Amazon’s play. Wheeled systems are virtually the ground floor of a modular ecosystem.

“When we look at our technology and our architecture, we look at every sub-component and the possibilities it offers us,” Joseph Quinlivan, Vice President of Amazon Global Robotics, told me during a panel at the event today. “And how do we commoditize that — just like software space — build a clean API and form factor around that, that can be reused across many different bot solutions and architectures. One of the reasons we’re able to work so quickly and build a wide range of products other than Kiva’s initial product, is that we were able to use this architecture and these technologies that he thought was more than just a problem we were immediately solving.”

At Re:Mars a few weeks ago, the company revealed a number of new bot systems designed to fit into that growing warehouse ecosystem. The group’s main title was Proteus, a new system offering complete autonomy while maintaining the raw form factor of Kiva. The company noted at the time:

Proteus independently travels through our facilities using advanced security, awareness, and navigation technologies developed by Amazon. The robot is designed to be automatically directed to do its job and move between employees – meaning it doesn’t have to be confined to restricted areas. It can operate in a way that promotes simple and safe interaction between technology and people – opening up a wider range of possible uses to assist our employees – such as lifting and moving GoCarts, the non-motorized wheeled transportation used to transport packages through our facilities.

We suggested, at the time, that the system might have been the product of Amazon’s 2019 acquisition of Boulder-based indie van maker Canvas. However, Quinlivan says the bot was developed independently of the acquisition.

An employee scans an item at workstations as part of mobile robotic execution systems also known as ‘Amazon Robotics’ during the opening of a new Amazon warehouse in Bretigny-sur-Orge, about 30 km south of Paris, on October 22, 2019. Image credits: PHILIPPE LOPEZ / AFP via Getty Images

This was developed in-house by the Amazon Robotics team that resulted from the Kiva acquisition. “A lot of times at Amazon we have simultaneous development efforts. We are excited about what the Canvas team will offer, and they will focus on a different app that we haven’t announced yet.”

It also pushes the idea that Amazon’s recently announced $1 billion fund, which has backed a number of robotics companies, including Agility, is a pipeline toward future acquisitions.

“I don’t think we invest – especially in early stage companies – because we want to acquire them. We almost don’t have that discussion. We invest because we think people have a passion for what they solve, it’s an interesting problem. We almost have the mentality that we want to invest in things we don’t think That it can be achieved, because we may be wrong.”

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