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Robotics Transportation Hardware Technology

RightHand Robotics Automates a New Type of Warehouse Work: Recognizing, Picking Up Items From Boxes (qz.com) 56

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: A startup called RightHand robotics recently began piloting technology that automates a task robots have previously struggled to master: recognizing and picking up items from boxes. RightHand can't say which companies are part of its pilot project and Amazon didn't reply to a request for comment. But the new technology could help the ecommerce giant with a problem that has long vexed it. Like robots elsewhere, Amazon's robots retrieve entire shelves and transport them to humans who pick out items from them. They can find and move a shelf that holds a box of shirts, but they aren't capable of removing the single shirt from that box to be packed into an order. In order to pick items from boxes, robots need to master the more complex task of identifying a wide range of objects and adjusting their grips accordingly. RightHand robotics, which was started by a team of researchers from Harvard Biorobotics Lab, the Yale Grab Lab, and MIT, built a solution called RightPick that, according to co-founder Leif Jentoft, can pick items at a rate of 500 to 600 per hour -- a speed on par with a human worker. It uses a machine learning background and a sensitized robot hand to recognize and handle thousands of items.
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RightHand Robotics Automates a New Type of Warehouse Work: Recognizing, Picking Up Items From Boxes

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    I can't be the only one who thought of wanking...

  • My understanding is that the main job for humans in Amazon warehouses is for 'pickers', that these machines are claimed to be able to replace (no word on accuracy, however). The article mentions that packing items in boxes is still done by hand, and I imagine loading/unloading trucks is still done with humans. However I can foresee completely-automated Amazon warehouses in the near future. With self-driving trucks, and completely-automated factories, there will likely soon be some products whose packaging a

    • by kobaz ( 107760 )

      The year is 2025... There's going to be such a massive amount of items that a household orders from Amazon, packed so furiously by our robot overlords, that in order to maintain our sanity, and ease the strain of endlessly ordering, receiving, categorizing, putting away, retrieving, and consuming, said items ordered from Amazon, we as a human race will need to acquire robot helpers.

      So soon, our houses will be whirring with robots, ordering items, preparing items, and giving us our items, shipped from the Am

      • It is robots that will build the more robots, not people.

      • I feel like I was put on earth to spend hours in front of a screen looking for the item I want.
        I'd much rather spend the time outside fruitlessly searching. We need robots to do the Web searching.

      • by Nethead ( 1563 )

        Fine, as long as one of those robots is able to break down all my damn Amazon boxes and put them in the recycling for me. They will also need to pop and dispose of the air pillows too.

        Added points for a robot that tracks down and gives a wedgie to anyone that ships stuff with packing peanuts.

    • Now add 90% of fast food jobs (3.3 million) and 90% of retail clerk/cashier jobs (another 3 million plus) and you are sitting at 15% of jobs destroyed in a 12 year period.

      And people who lose fast food and retail jobs are not going to be going to work as robot designers.

      It's at least 6 years off- but by 12 years from now it should be wide spread and in your face.

      I'm thinking universal basic income or civil unrest.

      • by Osgeld ( 1900440 )

        yea and I look forward to being taxed so hard that my lower middle class income becomes less than the ubi

    • The article mentions that packing items in boxes is still done by hand, and I imagine loading/unloading trucks is still done with humans. However I can foresee completely-automated Amazon warehouses in the near future.

      Amazon would need to have more tightly entwined work with UPS and FedEx or push their own truck delivery system which is probably why they're putting effort into drone delivery. There's technology out there for "smart shipping" which will pack stuff into a delivery vehicle which can cause the vehicle to be packed based on the route that it will take. This being optimal as you can reduce the volume required since you no longer need to have space for the driver to get into the storage portion of the vehicle a

  • At least, having an AI solve real world problems with advanced sensory feedback and complex appendages is doing more for robotics than silly animatronic detours like https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com].

    Imho, these kind of solutions is what is the real driving force of the future of robotics. Now to have a coffee and think about how our warehouse sized, multiped overlords will shape the future.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    leftie persecution. they're going smash lefties till they use their right hands.

  • by aberglas ( 991072 ) on Saturday April 08, 2017 @03:20AM (#54197103)

    Robots that can see. And respond in sensible ways.

    "Bin Picking" requires recognizing which objects are which, and what their orientation ("pose") is. Then plan a way to move to collect them.

    That is an order of magnitude more sophisticate than simply moving in rigid, predefined ways to work on things that have been precisely positioned in advanced.

    It opens up whole new fields of automation.

    And it is not that new, bin picking robots have been around for a while. They are getting better. This is only a story because Amazon is doing it now.

    • "Bin Picking" requires recognizing which objects are which, and what their orientation ("pose") is. Then plan a way to move to collect them.

      For big retail operations, wouldn't requiring the wholesalers to package their items so that they are easy to pick and place be easier? A QR code, standardized grab points, etc. It won't work for all operations (like reshelving clothes after they have been tried on), but it would be easy for anything that currently comes in a blister pack.

    • Robots are about to beat us (and all animals) at hand-eye coordination. Our set of unmatched skills is dwindling every day.

  • There is a nerd that decided he wanted to enter the exciting future of robotics, yet he would much rather prefer becoming a graduate of the Yale Grab Lab so he can, you know, pick up chicks instead.

  • It is always amazing how people get so worked up over this. The fact is, the current state of robotics is a joke. Yes, Amazon robots can locate a shelf of products and retrieve it (as long as the shelf is uniform, and labeled clearly). That is releatively easy to do. But pick an arbitrary item out of a box and then pack it? Very very hard. In fact, might not be possible to get it to work reliably. CPU technology isn't going to progress in leaps and bounds anymore, so we might be getting close to the fastest
    • Yes, Amazon robots can locate a shelf of products and retrieve it (as long as the shelf is uniform, and labeled clearly). That is releatively easy to do. But pick an arbitrary item out of a box and then pack it? Very very hard. In fact, might not be possible to get it to work reliably.

      FTFA:

      "The robots still aren’t as good as humans. They get stumped by stuff wrapped in plastic or things partly obscured by other items, for instance."
      "RightHand’s Jentoft said robots in the pilot programs are being used mostly to pick items from boxes."

      You rarely solve a complex problem all at once, it's usually solving parts of a problem until you have solved the whole thing. They will get there in time.

      CPU technology isn't going to progress in leaps and bounds anymore, so we might be getting close to the fastest digital processors we will ever see. Of course people scoff and say "Moore's Law", but the fact is that Moore's Law is dead. It is obvious by just looking at the current state of computing that it is dead. That is why there is a rush to multi-core. Everything is dependent on progress of digital processors. And they haven't been progressing at the same rate as they have been historically. Not even close.

      1) Moore's Law is an observation about the number of transistors in CPUs, not their computational power or power draw. It has no direct correlation to performance.
      2) GPUs massively accelerate computer vision solutions and there is plenty of processing power.
      3) Neural networks are ultimately more suited for this type of task since they work like bra

      • No they won't get there in time. That is my point. The entire idea hinges on growth of processors. There is an end to everything. Progress is not guarenteed.
        • The entire idea hinges on growth of processors.

          Not at all. If anything, it depends on the ratio of cost to computational throughput. We can always add more processing power to a robot, it just requires more electricity and hardware which cost money. Neural networks are the masters of efficiency when properly configured, which is probably why they occur in nature. I have no idea why you think we are going to fall short when IBM put an entire mouse brain into a collection of NN processors [makeuseof.com] just a couple years ago.

          There is an end to everything. Progress is not guarenteed.

          Why do you think anyone would just give

    • CPU prowess is hardly the limitation, the problem is reliability of vision algorithms. Getting vision to work reliably is hard.
      • Yes it is the limitation. There is no magical undiscovered algorithm. Currently everything hinges on digital processing capability. And that has peaked (basically).
  • A simple digital scale can sort many items by weight. An XL shirt for example will have less weight than a size M shirt. So if the shirts are stored such that all are the same except by sizes the robot can work its way through the bin until the correct size if located. There have been several other useful ways to sort items for quite some time. But the real question is whether robots can sort items that are very diverse and mixed together. So far that is difficult. But go to a junk yard that has one
  • "But the new technology could help the ecommerce giant with a problem that has long vexed it."

    And that problem is....human employees.

    Human employees are always demanding stuff like food, shelter, bathroom breaks, medical care, adequate lighting, temperatures above freezing....if we could just get rid of them everything would be wonderful and we'd be living in Utopia!

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