Amazon introduced our first mobile robots to help fulfill customer orders in 2012. These small-but-mighty robots were the predecessors to our current robot drive called Hercules, which continues to improve safety and efficiency in fulfillment centers around the world. Hercules helps employees by traveling around our facilities to retrieve shelves of products and delivering them to employees, who then pick the items customers ordered for shipping.
“One of the things that we’ve been proud of over our 10-year history is the ability to develop robots that work well alongside people,” said Scott Dresser, vice president of Amazon Robotics. “This starts with Hercules, which reduces walk time in the buildings and makes a better employee experience. It extends to Robin, which helps lift and sort customer orders. Now, we’re also testing Proteus and Cardinal, a new fully autonomous mobile robot and pick-and-place robotic system that pair up on tasks and can work more collaboratively alongside employees. And that’s really important, not just for our employees, but also for our customers. It helps us deliver faster, on time, with better value, and more selection to the customer.”
Hercules is being honored at a new gallery featuring iconic artifacts from innovative companies at Nasdaq’s new headquarters in New York City, and we’re thrilled to be included. Nasdaq created the new gallery space to celebrate the innovation, thinking, and success of companies with well-known brands and products. The space features noteworthy artifacts and stories from about 30 companies, including Hercules to represent Amazon.
Over the last 10 years, Amazon’s mobile drives have continued to evolve, becoming an increasingly important part of our global operations. Below are four cool facts about Hercules.
1.Hercules can lift up to 1,250 pounds and travel across the 1 million square feet of our largest fulfillment centers.
Hercules travels back and forth in our fulfillment centers to pick up mobile shelves of products and deliver them to employees at ergonomic workstations. Amazon stores goods on four-sided shelves called pods, which contain inventory ready for customers. When a customer order is made, Hercules slides under the appropriate pod, lifts it off the ground, and drives the pod to an employee, who picks the item and sends it off for packing.
2.Hercules uses centralized planning software to make smart decisions.
Hercules makes key decisions about how it moves independently, but takes overall direction from centralized planning software. After an order arrives at a specific fulfillment center, the software begins to orchestrate the safe, efficient movement of robot drives to help meet the delivery date. Amazon has over 750,000 mobile robots across its network. At each site, thousands of Hercules drives are coordinating how they move as a connected fleet.I got a rare peek inside an Amazon robotics facility and saw how fulfillment center robots are made and testedIt’s not every day you see one of humankind’s coolest creations come straight off the conveyor belt. Get a sneak peek at the process of building a ‘Hercules’ robot at the Amazon Global Robotics facility in Westborough, Massachusetts.
3.It has eyes (kind of).
Hercules has a forward-facing 3D camera that identifies people, pods, other robots, and any other items in the way. It uses these images to make safe decisions quickly, and is also programmed to respond safely if the electricity goes out. Hercules uses its camera to read a grid of encoded markers on the floor, which enables it to navigate, find its position, and locate any pod.
4.It communicates with employees through wearable Wi-Fi transmitters.
Hercules not only communicates with other robots, but also humans. Hercules can identify the location of humans who wear Wi-Fi transmitters called Tech Vests, and robots beyond the range of its sensors, so it can plan a route that steers clear of them.
Learn more about some of the robots Amazon uses in fulfillment centers around the world:
- Amazon introduces Sparrow—a state-of-the-art robot that handles millions of diverse products
- 10 years of Amazon robotics: how robots help sort packages, move product, and improve safety
- I’m a 22-year-old operations manager at an Amazon fulfillment center. Robots make my job safer and open doors to new opportunities.