Amazon tests new robot system to improve warehouse efficiency

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  • Amazon is testing a new robotic system that can recognize, select and handle individual products, the first time a robot has had that capability in its warehouses, the company said last week.
  • The system, called Sparrow, can process millions of different products using computer vision and artificial intelligence, according to Amazon. It moves items before packing, freeing employees from repetitive tasks.
  • Sparrow is currently in the research and development phase, and the company is weighing several factors before deploying it at scale, spokesman Xavier Van Chau said in an email.

Dive insight:

Amazon employees picked, stowed or packed more than 13 million packages a day last year. With Sparrow, Amazon wants to make the fulfillment process more efficient through automation.

Maximizing these efficiencies is especially important after the company has overstretched its fulfillment network and been weighed down by additional costs.

“Robotics technology allows us to work smarter, not harder, to work efficiently and safely,” Amazon said in its Sparrow announcement.

However, the company prioritized automation long before the newer themes. The acquisition of Kiva Systems in 2012 led to a larger robotics presence in its facilities to help handle waves of customer orders. As of June, the company had more than 520,000 robotic power units and more than a dozen types of robotic systems at its facilities.

“We have millions of products in our inventory of all shapes and sizes, and we saw an opportunity to invent new technologies that could help handle them at Amazon’s scale,” Amazon said.

Sparrow is intended to complement the other machines in the company’s network. Once items have been handled by Sparrow and then packed, existing robotic arms such as Robin and Cardinal can reroute them within the warehouse prior to delivery.

Robotic parcel sorters have been an area of ​​investment for companies outside of Amazon. FedEx Express uses robotic arms at its world hub in Memphis, Tennessee to handle small packages and letters. DHL’s e-commerce division saw improved throughput after installing DoraSorter robotic systems at a distribution center in Atlanta.

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