Amazon's robotics group asked the FCC to test special wireless equipment

Amazon is ramping up its robotics efforts and testing new technology that could make it safer to operate the fleet of robots toiling in its warehouses, according to recent FCC filings.

The FCC gave Amazon Robotics an expedited experimental licence to test a “proximity sensing system” that the company hopes to deploy in fulfillment centres outside the U.S.

Amazon Robotics “seeks to evaluate radiolocation technology to be used in the operation of robotics in fulfillment centres outside the United States,” the company said in the filing, the first such FCC filing by Amazon Robotics.

While Amazon stresses that the technology is strictly for internal use, and not something it intends to sell to “end users,” the filing underscores the company’s increasing investment and innovation in robotics, which has the potential to transform a broad swath of industrial and consumer markets.

A mock-up facility

Since buying robot-maker Kiva Systems for $US775 million in 2012, Amazon has integrated more and more automation into the giant fulfillment centres where it stores and ships its goods. In August, it officially sucked Kiva’s efforts into a new, broader effort called Amazon Robotics.

Amazon recently revealed in its Q3 earnings call that it had doubled its use of robots in its warehouses.

Today, more than 30,000 bots zip around 13 of its fulfillment centres, with Amazon exec Phil Hardin adding on the call that the company planned to start using them even more widely moving forward.

But even as this year has seen tremendous growth for Amazon Robotics, it also brought one of the first high-profile robot-related casualties at another big company. A robot crushed and killed a factory worker who was installing it in a Volkswagen facility in Germany in July.

In October, the FCC granted Amazon Robotics expedited access to an experimental licence to test a proximity sensing system using wireless spectrum in the 433 MHz band.

While Amazon Robotics said the radiolocation technology is intended for warehouses outside the US, the group is testing it in a special 10 meter by 10 meter mock-up of a fulfillment center that it has built at its headquarters in Reading, Massachusetts, the filing said.

“The experiments will be conducted at company facilities that have been configured with a 10 meter x 10 meter test floor mock-up of a typical environment inside a fulfillment center, which mainly consists of rack storage units where robotic equipment moves under and among the racks,” the FCC filing reads.

Export only

“The tests will involve turning on prototype transmitters and measuring the received signal strengths as the robotic equipment moves around on the test floor,” the filing continues. “Amazon Robotics will test different transmit power levels, transmitter heights, and transmitter orientations.”

The purpose of the technology is to “enhance the safety of the operations at its fulfillment centres,” Amazon says in the filing.

The company also makes it clear in the filing that this radiolocation technology will only be used in its own fulfillment centres, and only outside of the United States. The FCC authorised Amazon to test the wireless technology for two years.

Right now, Amazon’s robots simply help workers by hauling products around Amazon’s vast warehouses. But the company continues to develop its language perception, computer vision, machine learning and object recognition expertise with the goal of eventually seeing its robots actually pick up and package customer orders. Amazon is also developing drones that it hopes could one day deliver packages directly to customers’ doors.

As the company tries to increase the capabilities of its robots, safety measures like what it’s testing in Massachusetts will be crucial.

Business Insider reached out to Amazon for comment, and will update if we here back.

Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through hispersonal investment company Bezos Expeditions.

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