- Amazon Robotics, already a staple of the company's fulfillment center operation, has now moved into its sortation centers for the first time, the company announced yesterday at its re:MARS conference in Las Vegas.
- Amazon is using a new robot for sortation operations that, like its fulfillment center kin, is bright orange and about shin height from the ground. But instead of being outfitted to move shelves of inventory, this bot, called Pegasus, has a small conveyer belt on top of it, allowing it to receive a package and deposit it in the correct location within the center.
- "It just works better, this technology can reduce the number of miss sorts by 50% over our other sortation solutions," Amazon VP and Distinguished Engineer of Robotics Brad Porter said at the event. Porter said this use of robotics at sort centers will also speed up middle-mile logistics as the company has begun one-day shipping for many Prime orders.
At Amazon's fulfillment centers, customer orders are taken from inventory, packaged and loaded onto trucks. Sortation centers then organize these items by zip code before they're delivered. Amazon has more than 175 fulfillment centers and more than 40 sortation centers.
The company deployed 800 of its Pegasus bots in the Denver, Colorado, sortation center in October 2018. Human workers scan packages and place them on top of the Pegasus system, which then drives to the opening of the correct chute where the conveyor belt will shoot the package on the slide. This all happens in about two minutes, according to Amazon.
"The robotic system will increase the building capacity, and as it scales we will need to hire more people to help sustain the increased productivity levels," Steve Campbell, the director of Amazon Robotics Product Strategy, said in a statement.
Amazon has created new roles within its sort centers for managing these robots. One of the positions is the "flow control specialist," who acts as traffic control for the robots as they make their deliveries. These specialists get on-the-job training to learn how the robots work, how they're programed and how they read and navigate the floor.
Amazon has also unveiled Xanthus, the first update to its robotic drive-based machine since it purchased Kiva Systems in 2012. Currently, these robots are outfitted to carry around shelving in fulfillment centers, but the new Xanthus bot will have modular capabilities so the same base can handle multiple actions. Amazon plans "to develop a portfolio of robots" to function on the Xanthus platform and said Xanthus Sort Bot and Xanthus Tote Mover will be previewed later this week. There are no Xanthus robots currently in Amazon centers.
"With a versatile robot like Xanthus, we’re able to identify specific needs within each building and customize a solution that works for them," Amazon said in an email to Supply Chain Dive. "This model allows us to bring solutions to buildings without a significant redesign."
These announcements mark the latest in the processes that have been automated by Amazon with the addition of robotic helpers. Just last month, it was reported the company plans to automate the packing process in fulfillment centers with a new automated machine called the "CartonWrap." But the company is at least a decade away from being able to automate some functions, Scott Anderson, the director of Amazon Robotics Fulfillment, told reporters on a recent tour of Amazon's Baltimore fulfillment center.
"If you think about a picking manipulation arm to go into our existing bin structure and pull out a single unit with the same efficiency as what one of our associates can do right now, we’re 10 years away from being anywhere close to manipulate not just the product," Anderson said.