Amazon’s first fully autonomous storage robot is called Proteus

Amazon has announced its “first fully autonomous mobile robot”, designed to move large carts through its department stores. The robot is called Proteus, and Amazon says it can safely navigate around human employees, unlike some of its previous robots, which it kept separate in a cage area.

Amazon says Proteus robots have “advanced safety, perception and navigation technology,” and a (strangely silent) video shows the robots shining with green light in front of themselves as they move around. When a human enters the beam, the robot stops moving, and then resumes after the person has moved away.

The company has also announced several other robot systems. One, called the Cardinal, is a robotic arm that can lift and move packages weighing up to £ 50, which Amazon hopes to be able to implement in department stores next year. The company says its computer vision systems let it select and lift individual packages even when they are in a pile.

Amazon’s post also shows technology that could let employees drop the handheld scanners they use to log barcodes. Instead, workers face a camera system that recognizes the packages without pausing to scan the label. There are not many details on how it works, other than a combination of machine learning and a 120 fps camera system, but the effect is similar to what we’ve seen from the company’s Just Walk Out technology, which lets it build boxless stores. We’ve contacted Amazon to ask exactly what the system is looking at and we’ll tell you if we hear back.

As is often the case with new robot technology, there are potential concerns in the job market. Despite recent reports that Amazon may soon be struggling to find workers, the company says it is not looking to build robots instead of hiring people. A lead at Amazon’s robotics department told explicitly Forbes that “replacing people with machines is just a fallacy” that can lead to a company going bankrupt. However, robots can play a role in setting a work pace that humans struggle to keep up with, something we have already seen happen in the company with automated management systems. In particular, the new scanning system seems to be able to create unrealistic expectations of how fast workers should move.

Amazon, for its part, claims that all of its new robots could actually help improve security. The cardinal operates in places where workers would otherwise lift and twist heavy packages, a movement that can lead to injury, and Proteus could “reduce the need for people to manually move heavy objects.” The company is also working on a robot that would deliver containers to the workers instead of making them bend or climb to reach objects.

Amazon’s CEO recently promised to systematically address the damage rates at the company’s department stores, though he has minimized reports that its workers have been injured twice as much as the industry by calling the company’s rates “misunderstood.”