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Amazon hosts a robot competition to automate its warehouses

Jon Fingas, @jonfingas
March 25, 2015
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Amazon leans heavily on warehouse robots to assist workers and fulfill your orders on time, but these machines still can't pack items quickly enough to replace humans. However, the internet giant is determined to make these mechanical helpers more useful. It's holding a competition at a conference this May to see who's best at producing an autonomous robot that grabs products off shelves and stuffs them into boxes. This may sound like a relatively straightforward challenge, but it isn't -- the bots have to grab a variety of objects while breaking as little as possible, including fragile things like food.

Although the victor only gets $25,000, there's potentially a lot of prestige involved. Amazon will no doubt be interested in doing business if there's a clear winner, and the techniques developed in the challenge could apply to other robots where a delicate touch is necessary. Either way, there's a real chance that Amazon will take one step closer toward highly automated shipping hubs. And that's not necessarily a bad thing for the human staff. While Amazon might end up replacing employees with robotic packers, such a move could also help people cope with crushing holiday workloads and let them focus on more exciting (or at least, less monotonous) tasks.

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