- Amazon is testing out bipedal robots at its distribution centres.
- The robots come from a company called Agility Robotics, and can do the same work and traverse the same environments that humans can.
- Amazon may add the Agility robots to its wider robotics ecosystem if they provide an increase to productivity.
Humanoid robots are walking around Amazon facilities, lifting crates and helping with work usually reserved for the ecommerce giant’s human employees.
The firm is in the midst of testing these robots manufactured by a company called Agility Robitics, and if tests prove beneficial, Amazon could roll out Agility’s “Digit” robots to fulfilment centres across the US.
Amazon is still in the early stages of testing the bipedal machines, which have arms and legs and appear and move like the stereotypical robotic servant, the type you would see in media like Alex Proyas’ 2004 film I, Robot.
According to TechCrunch, Agility is one of the first five recipients of Amazon’s Industrial Innovation Fund. The $1 billion fund was launched in April 2022 focused on bringing in innovative logistics, safety and robotics tech to the firm’s fulfilment centres.
Digit is able to pick up and move packages, containers, customer orders and other objects. Unlike wheeled machines, it can navigate stairs and is designed to go everywhere a human can. Agility says it made the Digit from the ground up to work in bulk material handling within warehouses and distribution centres.
For Amazon, a key outcome of the test, which will influence the wider rollout of the Digit, is if productivity does in fact increase. Right now the company is using Digits to help human workers with the process of tote recycling.
This highly repetitive process involves the picking up and moving of empty totes once they are cleared of inventory. Like many companies, including Elon Musk’s Tesla, Amazon is aiming the Digit robots towards busywork that humans would find boring and routine.
Agility’s bipedal Digit robots now join hundreds of thousands of other robots and automation machines that Amazon is using “in collaboration” with its human staff.
Amazon Robotics chief technologist Tye Brady said that human staff were “irreplaceable” despite fears that hunger for productivity might see the company replace its staff with all-machines.
“There’s not any part of me that thinks that would ever be a reality,” he said about those concerns, as per BBC.
“People are so central to the fulfilment process; the ability to think at a higher level, the ability to diagnose problems.”
In May, a report suggested that Amazon was looking into generative AI technology to create a house robot that could talk to you, call 911, find your misplaced car keys and even look after your children.
This machine is apparently an upgraded form of its already in-market Astro robot if reports are true.
With Amazon to launch locally in 2024, it would be interesting to see what kind of robotics the tech giant will bring to South Africa to serve at its Cape Town headquarters.
[Image – Amazon]