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Amazon launches $25,000 robot competition that could see jobs at risk

Amazon has announced a robot competition that will see the winner scoop $25,000 and could ultimately put thousands of employees out of work.

Inventors are tasked with creating a robot capable of working in an Amazon warehouse, stacking shelves and packing items. Although the retail giant already uses some robots, the majority of warehouse tasks are still carried out manually.

Read more: Rise of the robots: usage of industrial bots expected to increase sharply

The competition is due to begin in May and will challenge designers to create a robot that is versatile enough to handle the huge variety of Amazon packages, which come in a number of shapes and sizes.

Approximately 30 teams will contest the Amazon Picking Challenge which will take place at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Seattle. Entrants will be tasked with picking and packing one specific item from 25 positioned on a stack of shelves.

The video above demonstrates the entry from the University of Colorado Boulder, which uses a commercially available Baxter robot armed with several modifications to enable it to carry out the sensitive tasks required.

Although Amazon hasn’t announced plans to formally incorporate the winner’s robot into its business, there is a good chance that a deal will be struck if the technology proves effective. This could help ease employee workload during the busiest times of the year, or ultimately lead to full warehouse automation and thousands of lost jobs.

Read more: First robot-staffed hotel set to open in Japan this summer

Robot technology has come on leaps and bounds in the past few years and has been boosted by advances in artificial intelligence. Aside from replacing factory jobs, developments in self-driving cars could prove massively disruptive to the taxi industry, while the first robot-staffed hotel is also due to open later this year in Japan.

Barclay has been writing about technology for a decade, starting out as a freelancer with IT Pro Portal covering everything from London’s start-up scene to comparisons of the best cloud storage services.  After that, he spent some time as the managing editor of an online outlet focusing on cloud computing, furthering his interest in virtualization, Big Data, and the Internet of Things.