Amazon, the e-commerce giant, plans to eliminate the traditional barcode. For what ? Robots, which are the future of logistics, have difficulty handling them. Amazon therefore developed an innovative camera system to identify items in its warehouses. Let’s find out together how it works and what the implications are for the future.
Multimodal identification: a revolution in warehouses
Amazon announced Friday that it has a plan to eliminate barcoding. This is because barcodes can be difficult to find and can be attached to oddly shaped products, something robots can’t solve very well. To overcome this problem, Amazon has developed a camera system that can monitor items moving on conveyor belts one by one to ensure they match their images. This system, called multimodal identificationis currently used in facilities in Barcelona, Spain, and Hamburg, Germany.
Amazon’s new system won’t completely replace barcodes anytime soon. Products in Amazon’s warehouses will need to have barcodes as long as the outside companies that make and ship them rely on the technology to identify and track inventory. However, the company says the system is already speeding up on-site package processing.
Technology at the service of precision
Amazon’s multimodal identification system uses images of items in warehouses to train a computer model. The images themselves, along with data on product dimensions, powered early versions of the algorithm. The cameras continually capture new images of items to train the model. The algorithm’s accuracy rate was between 75% and 80% when it was first used, which Amazon considered a good start. The company claims that the accuracy is now 99%.
The system experienced its first hiccup when it failed to detect color differences. During a Prime Day sale, the system could not distinguish between two different colors of Echo Dots. The only difference between the packages was a small dot that was either blue or gray. With a few tweaks, the identification system can now assign confidence scores to its reviews and only flag articles that it is very sure are incorrect.
Robots to replace humans?
Ultimately, Amazon’s AI experts and roboticists want to combine the technology with robots that can identify items while picking them up and returning them. “Solving this problem, so robots can pick up items and process them without needing to find and scan a barcode, is fundamental,” said Nontas Antonakos, head of applied sciences in the computer vision group at Amazon in Berlin. “This will help us deliver packages to customers faster and more accurately.”
Amazon’s AI team says it will be a challenge to fine-tune the multimodal identification system to evaluate products handled by people, which is why the ultimate goal is to have them handled by robots at the same time. place. The technology will be shared across Amazon’s business, so it’s possible you could one day see a version of it in a Whole Foods store or another Amazon-owned chain with brick-and-mortar stores.