Amazon’s Proteus Robots

Proteus was an Ancient Greek sea god, a protector of rivers and other bodies of water. He spent his free time herding seals and prophesying the future.

Amazon’s Proteus Robot is a new type of robot that is designed to help with warehouse tasks. Proteus is an autonomous mobile robot (AMR), the first one that Amazon describes as “fully autonomous.” Maybe the way it does its work is supposed to remind us of Proteus herding seals…or maybe it’s intended to forecast a future in which warehouses don’t require any human workers at all.

How does Proteus work?

The Proteus Robot is equipped with sensors and cameras that allow it to navigate autonomously through the warehouse without endangering human workers.

Another robot, Cardinal, picks packages, scans them to identify them, and packs them on transporters called Go-Karts. Proteus then takes the packages — on the Go_karts — to their next destination.

The Proteus Robot can lift up to 500 pounds, making it ideal for tasks such as loading and unloading shelves. Amazon figures that Cardinal and Proteus together free human workers from lifting heavy objects, one of the most common sources of accidents in warehouses. They also reduce the number of times people have to twist and turn their bodies, another common source of injuries.

For Amazon, Proteus means safer, more efficient warehouses.

Effects on workers

Amazon’s official reports focus on safety for human workers. But observers are wondering how much this has to do with Amazon’s labor concerns.

Amazon points out that it already has 520,000 robots and a decade of work in its dedicated robotics division under its belt. There are still plenty of human workers in Amazon’s warehouses. However, there are claims that an internal communication predicted Amazon would run out of workers by 2024. Quartz claims that Amazon’s employee turnover rate is twice the national average. The Verge says that Amazon’s warehouses have twice the normal injury rates, too.

Warehouse work is tough, no matter where it’s done, so it may be a good choice for automation. Amazon may have accomplished it, too.

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