Amazon warehouse workers got a glimpse of a potential future co-worker over the holiday weekend when a new champion was crowned during the Amazon Picking Challenge robotics contest.
Team Delft, from a technical university in the Netherlands, won $50,000 by beating out 15 top teams with its more accomplished picking and stowing machine. The Challenge was held during RoboCup 2016 in Leipzig, Germany.
According to a Delft Facebook post, “during the ‘stow task’ the robots, equipped with grippers, had to autonomously retrieve a wide range of products from a container and put them on the shelves. With the ‘pick task,’ it was the other way around: the robot had to retrieve items from the shelves and put them in a container.”
The BBC reports that the Delft robot’s only mistake in the stow task occurred “when its arm’s suction cup lifted a small pack of glue, it also picked up a bottle-cleaning brush, which then dropped to the ground.”
Amazon already uses robots extensively at its fulfillment centers, but it remains to be seen whether robotic pickers and stowers will someday rise to replace humans. GeekWire previously reported on John Markoff’s book about just such a world. Amazon downplayed the mention then, and again after this weekend’s Challenge.
“Robotics enhance the job for employees but does not replace them,” an Amazon spokesman said in a TechRepublic story. “In a robotics-enabled FC, you would see a massively parallel process, a symphony of humans and technology.”
If you want a closer look at a future in which robots could grab the everyday items you order from Amazon, you can watch a time-lapse video of the robot stowing:
And here’s a time lapse of the robot picking: