It took exactly two minutes for today’s session execution panel TC: Robotics to make its first Amazon mention. The retail giant dominates the category like no other. He played a fundamental role with the 2012 acquisition of Kiva Systems that gave birth to Amazon Robotics, and remains the 800-pound gorilla that looms in the background of any conversation about warehouse automation.
Over the past decade, the company has demonstrated impressive dominance. This has helped the company establish a once-impossible standard of next-day — and even same-day — delivery for many orders. Retailers big and small have been looking for ways to stay competitive, fueling the growth of an entire industry of warehouse robotics companies like Locus, Fetch and Berkshire Gray.
The 10-year-old acquisition of Kiva remains the centerpiece of Amazon’s game. Wheeled systems are effectively the ground floor of a modular ecosystem.
“When we look at our technology and our architecture, we look at each subcomponent and the capabilities it gives us,” Joseph Quinlivan, vice president of Amazon Global Robotics, told me during a panel at the event today. “And how can we commoditize that and, just like the software space, create a clean API and form factor around that that can be reused across many different robotic solutions and architectures. One of the reasons we were able to move quite quickly and create a wide range of products beyond the initial Kiva product is that we were able to use this architecture and these technologies that were considered more than a simple problem that we were immediately solved.
At Re:Mars a few weeks ago, the company unveiled a number of new robotic systems designed to fit into this growing warehouse ecosystem. Headlining the band was Proteus, a new system that introduces full autonomy while retaining Kiva’s rough form factor. The company noted at the time:
Proteus moves autonomously through our facilities using advanced security, perception, and navigation technology developed by Amazon. The robot was designed to be automatically directed to perform its work and move among employees, which means it does not need to be confined to restricted areas. It can operate in a way that increases simple and safe interaction between technology and people – opening up a wider range of possible uses to help our employees – such as lifting and moving GoCarts, wheeled non-automated transport used to move packages. through our facilities.
We suggested, at the time, that the system could be the product of Amazon’s 2019 acquisition of Boulder-based self-driving cart maker Canvas. Quinlivan, however, claims the robot was developed independently of the acquisition.
“This was developed internally by the Amazon Robotics team resulting from the acquisition of Kiva,” explains the manager. “Often at Amazon we have concurrent development efforts. We’re excited about what the Canvas team is going to deliver, and they’re going to focus on a different app that we haven’t announced yet.
He also pushes back against the idea that Amazon’s recently announced billion-dollar fund, which has backed a number of robotics companies, including Agility, is a pipeline to future acquisitions.
“I don’t think we invest – especially in start-ups – because we want to acquire them. We almost never have this discussion. We invest because we believe people have a passion for what they’re solving, it’s an interesting problem. We almost have the mentality that we want to invest in things that we don’t think we can achieve, because we could be wrong.