Mass. takes top honors in Amazon-organized robotics contest

The MIT team that participated in last week's Amazon Picking Challenge in Seattle. Professor Alberto Rodriguez is at top left.
The MIT team that participated in last week's Amazon Picking Challenge in Seattle. Professor Alberto Rodriguez is at top left.

Massachusetts-made robots and a team from MIT dominated the first-ever Amazon Picking Challenge last week in Seattle.

The e-commerce giant dangled $26,000 in prizes to get teams of researchers from around the world to build bots that could grab a series of products from a shelving unit and drop them into a bin. Last month, I wrote about the challenge, and the MIT and Worcester Polytechnic Institute teams that took part.

MIT’s team, from the MCube Lab, placed second out of the 28 teams that showed up. They attached a GoPro camera to the wrist of their robot to capture the video below of their robot in action. (Perhaps the least-thrill-packed GoPro video ever — unless you’re a roboticist?)

But while MIT used an industrial robotic arm from ABB of Zurich, and a gripper or hand of its own design, the teams that placed first and third in the competition used Made-in-MA bots. The Technische Universitaet Berlin crew relied on the WAM arm from Newton-based Barrett Technology. And Oakland University’s Team Grizzly used a two-armed robot from Rethink Robotics of Boston, perched on a mobile base made by Dataspeed of Michigan. Here’s the winning team’s video, using the arm from Barrett Technology:

Scott Kirsner writes the Innovation Economy column every Sunday in the Boston Globe, in which he tracks entrepreneurship, investment, and big company activities around New England.
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