Amazon.com Inc says it’s testing two new technologies to increase automation in its warehouses, including a trial of a humanoid robot.
The humanoid robot, Digit, was bipedal and could squat, bend and grasp items using clasps that imitated hands, the company said in a blog post on Wednesday. It was built by Agility Robotics Inc and would initially be used to help employees consolidate totes that had been emptied of items. Amazon invested in Agility Robotics last year.
The retailer, which was the second-largest US employer behind Walmart Inc, had deployed robots in its warehouses for more than a decade, mainly to move inventory to waiting employees. The system, which started with humans stuffing inventory items into mesh shelving, was undergoing a transformation to container-based storage, which more easily allowed robotic arms and other automated technology to sort and pick items, Bloomberg has reported.
In addition to Digit, Amazon was testing a technology called Sequoia, which would identify and sort inventory into containers for employees, who would then pick the items customers had ordered, the company said.
Remaining products were then consolidated in bins by a robotic arm called Sparrow, which the company revealed last year. The system was in use at an Amazon warehouse in Houston, the company said in a statement.
Amazon, which has emphasised quick delivery to fend off challenges from e-commerce rivals, said the Sequoia system reduced the time it took a warehouse to process an order by as much as 25%. That would also move the process in warehouses closer to an assembly line from the traditional warehouse model of employees searching for items and taking them off shelves.
Company executives have said they aim to use automation, in part, to free employees from repetitive tasks that could lead to injuries.
Amazon is under fire from Washington state and federal regulators for injury rates that exceed industry averages.