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Artificial Intelligence: Robots Rule When It Comes to Holiday Shopping

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Retailers are using robots to help warehouse workers find fast-selling products more quickly. The robots, built by Kiva Systems, are programmed with maps of the warehouse they operate in, and have artificial intelligence (AI) software that uses logic to help them navigate the warehouse. The robots also have optics to read specially placed markers on the floor. Experts say the robots, which can efficiently move shelves full of heavy inventory or clean up messes automatically, are a more accurate representation of modern AI than the humanoid robots seen in science fiction. Kiva chief scientist Peter Wurman says that retailers' use of AI robots shows that massive, multi-robot systems are finally being used at the commercial level. Each Kiva robot can communicate wirelessly with a central computer network in a warehouse to obtain the direction to travel when needed, but the robots can mostly operate independently. "After a robot visits a pick station and the worker there takes an item from or deposits an item on the robot's shelves, the robot will contact the central server to determine where it will go," Wurman says. "The server will tell the robot where to take the shelves, but it will not tell the robot how to get there." The robot determines the best route on its own using a map of the warehouse stored in its memory and navigation software to avoid colliding with shelves and other objects. "AI suffers from the fact that it's so easy to imagine the human-level intelligence in a robot that you could interact with like you interact with people," Wurman says. "But the AI field has made a lot of progress."

From Scientific American
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