It sounds like a title to a 1950s B movie, but the Amazon robots are coming. Bloomberg reports that to increase automation, Amazon is testing out two new technological solutions, including a human-like robot. The robot has two legs and feet, along with two hand-like clasps.
Amazon has been using robots in its warehouses for a decade, but a new humanoid design is being slowly phased in.
Capable of bending, squatting, and picking up items, the new Amazon robot is meant to assist employees in the stacking of item totes that have been emptied. The robot, built by Agility Robotics, is known as Digit and came to Amazon after the company invested in Agility Robotics in 2022. It was not an especially surprising move for the retailer, which has been using robots in its warehouses for more than 10 years.
For the most part, Amazon has used robots to transfer inventory from one place to another. However, this system used mesh shelving and is being changed. The new system will be container-based, which makes it easier for automated technology like robots to pick up and sort items.
The Amazon warehouse in Houston is already using the next-generation humanoid robots.
Amazon then uses another robot called Sparrow, which is essentially a robotic arm. Sparrow, a technology unveiled by Amazon last year, then organizes products into bins. Amazon is also testing a second technology called Sequoia.
Sequoia is a more sophisticated Amazon robot than some of the others in use, capable of identifying and sorting items into containers for employees, who can then pick out the ordered items. The company said in a statement that its Houston warehouse already uses the new robotic system. The company has been maintaining its status as the second largest in the United States in part by emphasizing fast deliveries, giving it an advantage over other e-commerce companies.
Amazon says its use of robots is a big time saver, which is important for a company so well known for its speed. The Sequoia system has so far resulted in a 25% decrease in the amount of time it takes for an order to be processed in the warehouse. This moves away from the previous workflow, which utilized employees finding items in the warehouse and removing them from the shelves.
Executives at Amazon have said the robots are meant to assist employees, which means they have not said anything about robots replacing employees, at least publicly.
Amazon’s new robotic system makes the environment inside a warehouse closer to that of an assembly line. It will hopefully cut down on the amount of stress placed on the company’s employees, who have complained for years about poor working conditions.
Workers have struggled to keep up with intense demands on their speed and accuracy while, in some instances, forgoing breaks. In order to keep up the pace of its operation and help reduce the strain on employees, Amazon seems to believe robots may be the way to go.
Executives at Amazon have said the robots are meant to assist employees, which means they have not said anything about robots replacing employees, at least publicly. With Federal agencies and Washington State regulators scrutinizing the company, there might be serious cause for concern at Amazon that has sparked this interest in using robotics and automation. Currently, Amazon is being criticized for rates of injury that exceed the average in their industry.