Amazon “Sparrow” sorting robot. Image courtesy Amazon
Amazon is rolling out an army of bots that could soon pick and sort the majority of the 13 million packages it delivers each day.
why does it matter: The growing demand for express delivery has prompted the e-commerce giant to look for ways to reduce the processing time for packages.
- Speed pressure started union organizing efforts in some Amazon warehouses by workers complaining of injuries and overwork.
- Turnover rates are so high that the company fears it will run out of people to hire in its US warehouses by 2024, According to Recodeciting internal research at Amazon.
Amazon’s answer? More automation.
- The company wants to give robots the most demanding and repetitive tasks, and then retrain employees for higher-skilled jobs such as robots mechatronics or software engineering.
- Instead of replacing workers, says Ty Brady, chief technologist at Amazon Robotics, robots can make their lives easier. “If you reframe your relationship with machines, you can have amazing productivity.”
Where do you stand: About 75% of Amazon orders are currently affected by some type of automation during their journey from warehouse to doorstep.
- However, human hands are mostly responsible for selecting and packing individual items for delivery.
Last: Amazon recently introduced a slew of new robots that will help it move, pick, and ship goods.
- “Proteus,” for example, is like an oversized Roomba. The autonomous robot could slide under an 800-pound cart stuffed with bundles and haul it across the warehouse.
- Robot arms like “Robin” and “BasicPackages can be sorted and forwarded to different warehouse locations before they are sent out for delivery.
latest amazon bot, birdrepresents a huge leap forward in automation, the company says.
- Unlike those other robots—which can sort through a few dozen package sizes and types—Sparrow can recognize, select, and handle millions of individual products using computer vision and artificial intelligence.
How it works: The company demonstrated Sparrow’s capabilities during a recent demonstration at Amazon’s robotics facility outside Boston, where it can manufacture up to 330,000 robots annually.
- I watched Sparrow’s robot arm dive into a box full of random goods and take out certain items using a “hand” made of tiny suction cups.
- It can locate and select goods buried beneath other items, and adjust its grip to handle different items before depositing them into the appropriate sorting bin.
- Amazon says Sparrow can identify about 65% of the company’s product inventory and can tell if an item is damaged and discard it. He gets better as he learns.
what are they saying: “I really think what we’re going to do in the next five years is going to dwarf anything we’ve done in the last 10 years,” Joe Quinlivan, vice president of Amazon Robotics, told Axios.
What we watch: Impact on the jobs of human workers.
- Amazon says it has created more than 1 million new robotics-related jobs and 700 new job categories, including hardware and software engineers, as well as maintenance, technicians and operations jobs.
- About 1,400 participants in a company-paid mechatronics and robotics training program have seen a 40% increase in wages, the company said.
- And Amazon is still hiring in its warehouses, though Layoffs among the white-collar workforce.
Yes, but: Not every warehouse worker can be easily “skilled”.
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