In a recent move that has captured the attention of the tech world, Amazon has announced the introduction of humanoid robots to its warehouses. This initiative is part of the company’s broader effort to automate tasks and streamline operations. However, the tech behemoth is keen to emphasise that these robots are not designed to replace human workers but to work collaboratively alongside them.
Digit, a 5ft 9 inches tall humanoid robot, has been introduced to one of Amazon’s warehouses near Seattle. Weighing in at 65kg and boasting the ability to carry up to 35kg, Digit is uniquely designed to lift and move containers using its “hands”. Developed by Agility Robotics, a start-up in which Amazon invested last year, this robot is primed to be a game-changer for warehouse operations.
Amazon expressed its optimism about Digit in a blogpost, stating: “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.” Initially, Digit’s primary role will be to collect and return empty baskets, reducing the physical strain on human workers.
The introduction of Digit has reignited concerns regarding the impact of artificial intelligence and automation on employment. Many fear that advancements in these areas could lead to significant job losses across various sectors.
Addressing these concerns, Tye Brady, the technology chief at Amazon Robotics, emphasised that human workers are “irreplaceable” in Amazon’s fulfilment centres. Contrary to displacing human workers, Brady suggested that robots like Digit would “eliminate all the menial, the mundane and the repetitive” tasks, allowing humans to focus on more complex and value-added activities.
Digit is not the only technological innovation Amazon has introduced. The company recently unveiled Sequoia, a robotic system in a Houston warehouse designed to streamline package collection and sorting. This system aims to improve workers’ ergonomic experience by eliminating the need for them to reach or squat excessively.
Additionally, Amazon has developed Sparrow, a robotic arm with the capability to identify and sort a vast array of items. The company highlighted that “lost time incidents” were 18% lower in warehouses equipped with robots compared to those operated solely by humans.
Furthermore, Amazon’s inventory processing system, Sequoia, reportedly increases delivery fulfilment speed by 25%. David Guerin, the Director of robotic storage technology, predicts that a significant portion of Amazon’s operations will integrate these robots in the coming three to five years.
While technological innovations like Digit promise efficiency and operational improvements, they also bring with them a host of questions about the future of work. Amazon’s insistence on the irreplaceability of its human workforce is reassuring, but only time will tell how these advancements will shape the landscape of employment in the tech sector.