Amazon has crowned the winner of its second annual robot Picking Challenge. This year’s $25,000 top prize went to a machine that uses a combination of deep learning AI, depth-sensing cameras, and a “two fingered” gripper and suction cup to select and pack items.
The winning robot is the work of Team Delft, a collaboration between researchers from the TU Delft Robotics Institute and the Delft Robotics company, both based in the Netherlands. The $10,000 second prize went to NimbRo from the University of Bonn, and Japanese firm PFN won $5000 for placing third.
The challenge is split into two parts; first, the robots are required to pick items from a container and put them on the shelves. The task is then reversed: the robots must select objects and return them to the box. All this must be completed without damaging the items, which includes books, cubic boxes, clothes, and irregularly shaped objects.
Five minutes before they had to start, each team received a file describing the range of objects involved and instructions for which should be moved. The adaptive AI in team Delft’s machine was able to use the information to determine the best way to pick up and manipulate the objects, according to TechRepublic.
The Delft robot can select about 100 items per hour, making it more than three times faster than last year’s winner, which only manages around 30 items per hour. And this was despite the fact that Amazon had made the competition more difficult “with denser bins, occluded items, and products that are more difficult to see and grasp.”
Even with the tougher demands, this year’s challenge saw just under half the teams scoring more than 40 points, which would have been enough for third place in the 2015 challenge.
Amazon stresses that the competition doesn’t mean robots are ever closer to completely replacing people in its warehouses. A human is still able to pick around 400 items per hour and, unlike the winning machine, probably won’t drop 16% of them. “Robotics enhances the job for employees but does not replace them,” Amazon said to TechRepublic.