Amazon’s X Factor-for-robots wants precise packers, not melodic megastars

Amazon HQ
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In a move certain to raise eyebrows among Amazon’s army of distribution center workers, the company is to hold a contest to find a robot that can pick and pack items more efficiently than humans. While the Web firm already uses robotic technology for some tasks at its distribution centers, the machines are still rather slow and clumsy when it comes to handling more delicate items or awkwardly shaped products. This contest hopes to change that.

Yes, it’s the X Factor of the robotic world, where precision and care when handling goods will win, rather than any previously unseen singing and dancing ability. Well, we hope so, anyway.

The bot-based challenge, which takes place in Seattle in May, will present the participating machines with various tasks to see how effectively they can locate, retrieve, and pack different items.

Some 30 teams from academic departments around the world are finalizing their designs for the event, with Amazon offering a top prize of $25,000 in a bid to focus minds on the task in hand.

Of course, there could be a lot more in it for the winners if the online retail giant chooses to actually develop the design and use it at its distribution centers throughout the world.

The move towards robotic technology and away from human workers at its distribution centers allows Amazon to make massive savings in labor costs over time. The recent introduction at some of its centers of 15,000 Kiva-made robots, for example, is thought to be saving the e-commerce company between $450 million and $900 million a year.

And if its upcoming contest manages to uncover a nimble-fingered high-tech bot that can pick and pack at speed, that figure is set to increase significantly.

[Via MIT]

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