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Brad Porter
Brad Porter, vice president of robotics at Amazon, introduces new breeds of robots at the re:MARS conference in Las Vegas. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

LAS VEGAS — Amazon says there are now 200,000 robots working alongside 300,000 people at its distribution facilities around the world, and there’s more to come.

Brad Porter, vice president of robotics at Amazon, took the virtual wraps off two new types of robots during today’s keynote session at the first-ever re:MARS conference here in Las Vegas.

One type, code-named Pegasus, is built to sort packages. As described in an Amazon blog post, each 3-foot-wide robot is equipped with a conveyor belt on top to drop the right box in the right location.

“We sort billions of packages a year,” Porter said. “The challenge in package sortation is, how do you do it quickly and accurately? In a world of Prime one-day [delivery], accuracy is super-important. If you drop a package off a conveyor, lose track of it for a few hours  — or worse, you mis-sort it to the wrong destination, or even worse, if you drop it and damage the package and the inventory inside — we can’t make that customer promise anymore.”

Porter said Pegasus robots have already driven a total of 2 million miles, and have reduced the number of wrongly sorted packages by 50 percent.

The other type of robot, called Xanthus, represents the latest incarnation of Amazon’s drive robot. The online retailer uses tens of thousands of the current-generation robot, known as Hercules, in its fulfillment centers.

Porter repeatedly emphasized that the chief role of Amazon’s robots is to make things easier for human workers. For example, he noted that the company’s robotic palletizers have lifted more than 2 billion pounds over the course of their use, “making jobs easier and safer for our associates.”

“We were excited to roll out last year our robotic tech vest, which allows associates to walk safely onto the robotic floor, confident that the drive units will detect them and move out of their way,” Porter said.

Last year, an Amazon patent application created a stir by suggesting that workers in fulfillment centers could move around the floor in cagelike contraptions to avoid running afoul of the robots. At the time, Amazon executive Dave Clark said the tech vest was a “far better solution.”

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