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6/1/2015 9:30:00 AM Write a Letter to the Editor Write a letter to the Editor

Amazon Is Looking for the Perfect Warehouse Worker

Geoff Robinson/Amazon.com

Amazon.com Inc.’s inaugural “Amazon Picking Challenge” inspired mechanical engineering and computer science students from around the world to design robots that can grab boxes of Oreo cookies and pencils from warehouse shelves and place them in bins, tasks ordinarily done by people.

The Seattle retailer hopes to make its challenge a regular event that encourages innovation in robotics and steers academic research toward e-commerce automation.

Participants, however, said Amazon will have to be more generous with prize money and travel vouchers in the future for that to happen.

The world’s largest e-tailer, which had 2014 revenue of $89 billion, budgeted a total of $26,000 for prizes and $60,000 for travel grants for more than 30 teams participating in the competition this week at the International Conference of Robotics and Automation in Seattle.

“If you really want strong teams, you need a bigger investment,” said Alberto Rodriguez, who led a team of graduate-level students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “This probably needs 10 times the money.”

The feedback highlights the competition Amazon faces in using a contest to attract the resources and talent of academic researchers to solve its problems. The Department of Defense, for instance, will host the DARPA Robotics Challenge in Pomona, California, next month, featuring $3.5 million in prize money for teams that design the best robots that can assist humans in natural disasters.

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By Spencer Soper
Bloomberg News


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