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Amazon preps for a ‘multi-robot’ world: RoboRunner cloud service builds on its own warehouse tech

·2 min read
Amazon’s new RoboRunner cloud service can orchestrate the operation of robots from multiple vendors. (Amazon Photo)
Amazon’s new RoboRunner cloud service can orchestrate the operation of robots from multiple vendors. (Amazon Photo)

The concept of “multi-cloud” has become widely accepted in the tech industry, as companies use different cloud vendors for various types of cloud workloads. Now Amazon is preparing for a similar outcome in robotics.

Amazon is incorporating technology originally developed for its own warehouses into a new cloud service, RoboRunner, that other companies can use to manage and coordinate fleets of robots from multiple vendors.

The company separately announced a new AWS Robotics Startups Accelerator, in partnership with MassRobotics, to help robotics startups incorporate Amazon’s cloud technologies into their products and services.

AWS IoT RoboRunner, unveiled by Amazon Web Services at its re:Invent conference in Las Vegas, lets companies connect robot fleets to the cloud, operate different types of robots as part of the same system, and develop apps that optimize the operations of an automated fleet using real-time data from the warehouse or factory floor.

The AWS Robotics team, which makes cloud services for use with robots, has always worked closely with Amazon’s internal robotics teams. However, the direct lineage of RoboRunner is unusual, said Eric Anderson, general manager of AWS Robotics and Autonomous Services, in an interview with GeekWire.

“RoboRunner is unique in that it the technology actually started as a program inside of Amazon to help our robotic fleets scale to the levels that we’re operating at today, and to allow them to incorporate more diversity in the types of equipment that we could actually deploy as a part of our fulfillment and logistics operations,” Anderson said.

It’s a follow-up to the company’s AWS RoboMaker robot simulation service, launched in 2018 to help roboticists and software engineers build cloud applications and simulations. Amazon is targeting RoboRunner to a different customer base: larger companies that are buying and operating robotic systems at a larger scale.

With the new service, Amazon is looking to get ahead of a long-term trend.

For now, most companies are using a single robot platform. However, this will change as commercial and industrial robots proliferate in the years ahead, wrote Gartner analyst Dwight Klappich in a July report that addressed the trend.

“As companies expand their use of robotics, most will eventually have heterogeneous fleets of robots from different vendors performing a wide array of tasks,” he wrote. “Integrating with and coordinating the work of a varied fleet of robots will require standardized orchestration software that can easily integrate to a variety of specific robot platforms.”

Amazon is far from alone in pursuing this market. Examples listed by Gartner were Accelogix; Formant; GreyOrange; MacGregor Partners; Rapyuta Robotics; Ready Robotics; Rocos; and SVT Robotics.

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