Dutch robot takes gold in Amazon industrial automation challenge

Team Delft score $50,000 prize in warehouse sorting competition

A Dutch robotics team has taken home first place in Amazon's Picking Challenge, designed to test robots for industrial warehouse automation.

Team Delft, which includes engineers from Delft University of Technology and a private robotics firm, walked away with a $50,000 (37,695) cash prize after beating out 15 other teams from the US and Japan.

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The contest, now in its second year, is split into two sections: a 'pick' task and a 'stow' task. For the 'stow' test, the robots had to load 12 items from a box into specific areas of a shelf.

The 'pick' test, however, was more difficult, with 12 objects to be identified, picked up and packed into boxes. The items all varied in size, shape and weight, and were surrounded and often obscured by other items on the shelf.

Each robot had to perform its tasks autonomously, with the teams given basic details of the objects and movement instructions just five minutes before the start of the test.

The teams lost points for any items that were damaged or dropped from a height of more than 30cm, as well as for leaving an object more than 0.5cm outside its designated shelf area.

Delft's robot comfortably won the 'stow' task with 214 points, and while it tied with Japanese rivals on the 'pick' task, its faster completion time led it to victory.

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The win could have significant implications for the manufacturing sector. While automated robots are currently in use by many firms, current models are only capable of reasonably basic, predetermined tasks.

Robots that are able to intelligently identify, manipulate and sort objects would be much more adaptable and multifunctional, speeding up workflows and requiring less human oversight and assistance.

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