Queensland researchers are trying to save Amazon billions of dollars.

A team of roboticists from the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision at QUT have unveiled ‘CartMan’ a logistics robot that will pit its item-picking skills against 15 other international robots in the third annual Amazon Robotics Challenge, part of RoboCup 2017 in Nagoya, Japan, on Thursday this week. 

Competition will be fierce for the prize pool of US$250,000 for teams whose ‘bots can complete the task of picking and stowing objects from a storage system.

“Our robot has a vision system to recognise specific items in a crowded container, and a mechanical system to retrieve and stow that item into a shipping box,” said Dr Leitner, a roboticist from QUT.

“You won’t believe how hard is it to teach a robot to see a clear bottle of water among a bunch of groceries, or teach it the best way to pick up a bag of marbles.

“We opted to build our own robot from scratch – a three-axis Cartesian robot that acts much like a gantry crane you see at ports. With six degrees of articulation and both a claw and suction gripper, CartMan gives us more flexibility to complete the tasks than an off-the-shelf robot can offer.

“We are world leaders in robotic vision and we’re pushing the boundaries of computer vision and machine learning to complete these tasks in an unstructured environment – we won’t even be told which items CartMan must pick and stow until just before our heats,” Dr Leitner said.

“But I think we stand a good chance – the robot is robust and tackles the task in an innovative way we hope will give us the advantage.”

Unlike traditional brick-and-mortar retailers that use warehouses and distribution centres to ship products to stores, online retailers such as Amazon focus on fulfilment centres - facilities full of shelving, from which human workers pick and stow individual items in order to fill customer orders.

While Amazon has mastered using robots to move products around its fulfilment centres, picking and stowing items is the glaring gap in its automated logistics system.

CartMan Amazon Robotics Challenge HD