Amazon Picking Challenge: Delft Uni wins

Dutch Delft University of Technology engineers won both Amazon Picking Challenge competitions held in conjunction with the RoboCup in Leipzig last week.

The Amazon Picking Challenge aims to “strengthen the ties between the industrial and academic robotic communities and promote shared and open solutions to some of the big problems in unstructured automation”.

According to a report from TU Delft: “The challenge is divided into two separate finals: during the ‘stow task’ the robots, equipped with grippers, had to autonomously retrieve a wide range of products from a container and put them on the shelves. With the ‘pick task’, it was the other way around: the robot had to retrieve items from the shelves and put them in a container.”

Team Delft won the stow task fairly comfortably, but the pick task was a photo finish. According to Amazon’s official report on the challenge: “The competition was so close that the judges had to resort to the second tie-breaker using video replay to determine the winner. Both Team Delft and PFN finished with 105 points, but Delft achieved their first pick in a mere 30 seconds, beating PFN’s 1:07 time.”

Amazon makes no secret of its interest in robots doing picking tasks, something that is too complicated for robots at present. Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos is frequently seen at robotics fairs and is known to be investing significant sums of money in developing machines that can replace humans in the fulfilment centres and warehouses of the Amazon empire. Robots will reduce costs and don’t require shift rotations, as well as employee benefits and numerous other HR costs.