Amazon.com Inc. has developed a robot capable of identifying and handling individual items, a milestone in the e-commerce giant’s efforts to reduce its reliance on the human order pickers who currently play a key role in getting products from warehouse shelves to customers’ doorsteps.
The robotic arm, tipped by a set of retractable suction devices, is called Sparrow. In demonstrations on Thursday, the machine autonomously grabbed items of different sizes and textures from a plastic tote and placed them in other receptacles. Amazon said the bot is capable of handling millions of different products.
According to Amazon, it can detect, select and handle individual products’ and therefore reduce many of the repetitive tasks that flesh-and-blood humans have to do.
Although the tech giant hasn’t announced any major layoffs in the same way as Meta and Twitter, it is struggling. This week, Amazon became the first company in history to lose $1 trillion.
So, naturally, replacing people with robots is one way of cutting costs when it comes to logistics.
‘In our current research and development efforts, we are working with Sparrow to consolidate inventory before it is packaged for customers,’ said Xavier Van Chau, a spokesperson for the company, ‘but the possible applications of this technology in our operations is much broader.’
Amazon is steering clear of any suggestion the robot will replace employees at this point. In fact, it’s saying the addition of robotics has created 700 new categories of jobs within the company.
‘These new types of roles, which employ tens of thousands of people across Amazon, help tangibly demonstrate the positive impact technology and robotics can have for our employees and for our workplace,’ the company said in a blog post.
‘Supporting our employees and helping them transition and advance their career into roles working with our technology is an important part of how we will continue to innovate.’
There’s another good reason Amazon is keen to increase its robotic assistance it may actually run out of people to hire.
An internal company research memo, obtained by Vox in June, stated bluntly: ‘If we continue business as usual, Amazon will deplete the available labor supply in the US network by 2024.’
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