Amazon says its warehouses now deploy more than 750,000 robots, most of them robotic arms or wheel-based machines designed for repetitive jobs to free up employees for other tasks.
But Amazon’s latest deployment may have some warehouse workers looking over their shoulders as this particular contraption looks and moves more like them.
Undergoing testing at its robotics research and development site just south of Seattle, Digit is a humanoid robot that’s capable of moving between locations while grasping and handling packages destined for customers.
We first learned of Digit in 2019 when it was being touted as a potential delivery robot. Built by Oregon-based startup Agility Robotics, the bipedal robot has since been improved to be more mobile and agile, improvements that have been propelled in part by investment from Amazon.
“Its size and shape are well suited for buildings that are designed for humans, and we believe that there is a big opportunity to scale a mobile manipulator solution, such as Digit, which can work collaboratively with employees,” Amazon said in an online post this week, adding that its initial use for Digit will be to help employees with the repetitive task of picking up and moving empty crates after they’ve been emptied of picked items.
Amazon also said it’s deploying a robotic system called Sequoia at one of its warehouses in Houston, Texas. The low-slung, wheel-based robot is capable of identifying and storing inventory 75% more quickly, helping it to slash the processing time of orders by as much as 25%, the company claimed.
While many observers believe Amazon dreams of the day when it will be able to run its entire warehouse operation using robots, the company insists that it wants its machines to be collaborative and to support employees, with this approach central to how it designs and deploys systems like Sequoia and Digit.
“Over the last 10 years, we’ve rolled out hundreds of thousands of robotics systems while also creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs within our operations,” Amazon said, adding: “By equipping our employees with new technology and training them to develop new skills, we’re creating career paths and new and exciting ways for people to contribute here at Amazon.”
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