Amazon Patent: Robotic tossing of items in inventory system

By Chris Dawson July 29, 2018 - 5:07 pm

Amazon have been awarded a patent first filed in 2015, which describes robot arms to be used for ‘The Robotic Tossing of Items in an Inventory System’. Taken to it’s very basics, Amazon’s conjecture is why would a human (or robot) walk around a warehouse carrying a product if it’s quicker to throw it from one side of the building to another?

The immediate reaction from many will be accusations of lack of care and horror that a product they might have purchased could be wilfully thrown around. The reality of ecommerce however is that you should be surprised if the goods you buy and sell aren’t tossed about (whether human or robotic tossing) with very little care for the contents – that’s what packaging is for.

As an example, when a courier is loading a 40 foot articulated lorry trailer, they don’t lovingly place each parcels into a cage and gently roll it onto the truck. What the courier companies do is build a wall from the largest parcels and literally throw all the smaller parcels behind the wall. At times your parcel may be tossed up to eight feet in the air to land atop a pile of parcels and at others it may be thrown onto the floor of the trailer to await eight feet of parcels to be thrown on top of it. This isn’t carelessness by the courier company, it’s pretty much how they all operate and how you should expect your parcels to be handled.

Back to Amazon’s patent, it describes in detail how products may be tossed onto racks, conveyor belts and other processing equipment and even to a higher or lower floor in the warehouse. It also considers the trajectory of other items already thrown to avoid mid-air collisions and the things that must be considered before a product is thrown such as mass, shape, surface, fragility (Amazon call it ‘deformability’ and ‘structural integrity’) and temperature.

Amazon have also attracted some criticism for the description of items that could be subjected to robotic tossing which the they depicted as a mug, dwarf figurine and rubber duck. The Little People of America have been vociferous in their opinion of anything that is reminiscent of dwarf tossing and indeed one wonders why the patent specifies a ‘dwarf figurine’ rather than just a ‘figurine’.

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