Imagine a massive secret facility located far outside the city, with a decidedly gray exterior obscuring the million (or even billion) dollar technological robotic improvements inside.
For those in the know, the 350,000-square-foot facility is officially known as The Boss 27 But for many, this bot factory is the future of e-commerce in the United States, and likely globally, since it is the birthplace of AmazonIndustry leading automation that has changed the way customers shop, revolutionizing the way we receive our packaged packaging of the future.
A 45-minute bus ride out of Boston, the Westboro, Massachusetts location is the 27th building Amazon owns in Boston, hence the functional naming convention for BOS27, to differentiate the way Amazon names its facilities worldwide.
When it opened last year, BOS27 wasn’t just another warehouse cementing the online retailer’s massive presence across North America, as it represented the company’s ambition when it came to robotics and its transformation of the company’s end. A logistical journey, and an Amazon icing on the cake Acquisition of Kiva Systems, a robotics company, for $775 million in cash over a decade ago.
As Amazon sets its targets toward sales and delivery goals that defy human comprehension, of hundreds of thousands of orders and millions of deliveries, it has realized that it will require adding technology and robotics to meet its ambitions. Not content with the idea of ”same day” delivery that may not have been groundbreaking but has been easily taken over in the past decade, Amazon exploits how man and machine can work together to achieve what is now called “Sub Same Day” delivery, to fulfillment within 5 hours or less once you place an order. with A fully functional facility as wellThere are aspects of Amazon’s operational process that the company is testing with machines, to help manual employees reduce repetitive and potentially dangerous tasks.
However, the answer to this question is not as exciting as fiction or how Hollywood has portrayed robots in pop culture, with machines personified. If you are considering power loaders as described in aliens, or The huge Jaegers in pacific rimSuch representations are a far cry from the reality Amazon is looking to project, says Mikkel Taylor, the company’s chief technology program manager.
“Compared to what humans can do and take that as a standard, robots are still very early days. Anytime you see a robot in pop culture doing one thing that’s pretty boring, that’s where we are,” Taylor chuckled.
And she is not mistaken. Instead, consider the episode of Rick and Morty that introduced a robot built with the sole purpose of passing butter — single-mission machines are what Amazon is striving to solve and perfect at the moment.
The real reason behind robots may be to improve efficiency or improve performance, but Taylor has a more fundamental challenge to contend with, which is to create a machine that helps humans where it counts—working less and enjoying life.
“I’d rather have a robot do my job so I can hang out with my kids. And we should have robots that do the things that keep us from living our best lives.”
And the company is closing in on this, as about 75% of the 5 billion packages the company handles annually are managed in part by bots, in at least one part of the fulfillment and delivery process. What her team is working on, is not building robots based on common understanding as science fiction portrays them, but building these robots with a purpose based on actual need, which varies greatly and therefore, must be built from the ground up.
“Part of the reason I like the field, and why I love talking about it, is that there really isn’t a good understanding of where the technology is. So I’m amazed at where they’re getting close to but they’re still missing something. What can AI do now? What is it?” What can robots actually do? It’s not much and in fact it’s still very limited to everything we do, it’s like a small piece of the huge world.”
It was this driving force that led to the creation and construction of the Proteus, an automated flat storage rack similar to a vacuum machine. Capable of lifting more than 800 pounds (about 362 kilograms) of items and products across the facility, the current iteration of the Proteus has been in the works for a few years. The design is based on the ongoing research and development that Amazon has invested in over the past decade.
Measuring about one meter across, these robots differ from previous similar devices published by Amazon in that the Proteus is completely autonomous. This means that as he dashes around the floor to locate and move large shelves around him, he can do it all independently while looking for obstacles or humans in his path. Right now, Amazon has a similar type of robot deployed but that has to be separated where there is no human traffic, and currently runs on pre-determined ‘rails’ or paths that are indicated by physical markers placed on the ground.
In the event that Proteus comes into contact with a human, it will actually stop and try its best to find a way around the human or obstacles, rather than relying on predetermined ways to get it from one point to another. It even has a “face” that allows humans to better communicate with it, which was included as part of a design developed by Taylor’s team.
“One of the things that has emerged is that having a face gives people a sense that Proteus can see them, even though the eyes are not the sensors. People will be able to feel like, ‘Oh, Proteus sees me, so he won’t bump into me,’ and using a face helps people build A mental model of how Proteus works so they won’t be surprised.”
As it stands, Proteus is still very much in its early days of development, and is currently only deployed to select facilities across North America. But there are plans to eventually bring Proteus to other markets globally, though there are some considerations to make.
“What we plan to do in the next couple of years is start doing user studies around the world, and other regions that we might get into. In the US, Proteus will pass a user on the left but in Singapore, the UK and Australia,” Taylor explained.
And in doing so, Proteus also needs to be modified to accommodate a culturally different workforce.
“Proteus will move right or even some facial expressions, and the type of body language we give Proteus to may vary from region to region. So what we want to understand is what are those cultural differences that we need to have?”
Of course, another human concern is job loss due to automation, and while Proteus Skynet isn’t, it was designed to do more, and at a much faster pace. But for the team, this also opens up many opportunities.
“I think a lot of introductions to robotics assume it’s all about programming. But a lot of people who don’t like to code can still have a huge impact on robotics. We have mechanical and electrical engineers, systems engineers, manufacturing engineers. And there’s program management, product management, and user experience design. So you don’t even have to be technical.
This is something Amazon is also aware of, and has introduced new training and job options internally, to help develop employee careers as well. Currently, there is a 12-week Amazon Mechatronic and Robotics apprenticeship, training employees in new skills, and acquiring required technical maintenance roles.
Consider this, as the use of robots increases, these machines will still need to be serviced after repeated work. Progressing a new career path to serve as the guiding hand behind the machines means those who complete the training can expect a salary increase of up to 40%.
And while there are essential skills and knowledge to start this robotics journey, it also helps to believe that robots are the future.
“Robots generate a lot of interest from people and there is a lot of excitement around them. And it’s very easy once you have that excitement to tap into it. So it’s really just that initial spark of excitement and interest that can go a long way in helping teach people about Regarding robots.
Gerald is currently torn between his love of video games and board games. There’s nothing that excites him more than trying the newest and coolest gadget in town, too. Dreaming of publishing a board game sometime in the future!
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