Australia won the Amazon Robotics Challenge with ‘Cartman’, a cheap robot held together with cable ties

The Australian Centre for Robotic Vision at QUT has grabbed the first prize and US $80,000 in the Amazon Robotics Challenge with its custom-built Cartesian robot, Cartman.

Cartman beat out 16 other teams from around the world, despite being the cheapest build competing, and one of its parts being held on with cable ties.

Theirs was the only Cartesian robot at the event, and it is believed to be the least expensive contestant as well. Cartman can move along three axes at right angles to each other, like a gantry crane, and featured a rotating gripper that allowed the robot to pick up items using either suction or a simple two-finger grip.

“It was a tense few hours,” according to the Centre’s COO Dr Sue Keay, “our team top scored early with 272 points on the final combined stowing and picking task but we then had to wait on the results for five other teams, many of whom had outperformed us in the rounds, before it became clear that we had won.”

“Not bad for a robot that was only unpacked and reassembled out of suitcases a few days before the event, with at least one key component held together with cable ties.”

RoboCup and the Amazon Robotics Challenge were held in Japan at the Nagoya International Exhibition Hall (Portmesse Nagoya).

The Australian Centre for Robotic Vision team consisted of researchers, early PhD candidates and undergraduate students who combined computer vision, machine learning and a variety of robotic hardware to successfully complete both pick and stow tasks the fastest.

The Australian Centre for Robotic Vision succeeded in the Grand Championship Combined Task to win the overall Challenge with Nanyang Technological University of Singapore winning the Pick Task and MIT Princeton winning the Stow Task.

Every year, Amazon holds a challenge for robotics researchers to test the best pick-and-place robots. The Prime company’s motivation couldn’t be clearer–eliminating human pickers gets Amazon very near the lights-out warehouse its been driving toward since it acquired Kiva Systems, a developer of logistics robots, in 2012.

Here’s an overview of how things went:

Third place went to Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, which managed a first in the picking task and a second in the stowing task. And second place went to NimbRo, which posted this video of their final run: