Amazon introduces robotic arm that can do repetitive warehouse tasks

Amazon on Thursday unveiled a new robotic arm that can sort and lift packages in warehouses.

Amazon

Amazon on Thursday showed off a new robot that could one day assist warehouse workers with some of the more tedious aspects of the job.

The company unveiled “Sparrow,” a robotic arm that can pluck millions of items of varying shapes and sizes, on stage at the Delivering the Future conference near Boston, where it showcased new robotics, transportation and last-mile delivery technologies.

Amazon says Sparrow uses computer vision and artificial intelligence to move products before they’re packaged. A video of Sparrow shows the robotic arm picking up a board game, a bottle of vitamins and a set of sheets — all the kinds of items that might flow through one of the company’s warehouses — and deftly placing them in crates.

While the introduction of robots to the warehouse often raises questions about whether human jobs will be replaced, Amazon says Sparrow will “take on repetitive tasks,” freeing employees up to focus on other things.

The company also said the technology can improve safety in the workplace, although that prospect has been debated. An investigation by Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting found the company’s warehouses with robots have higher injury rates than facilities without automation.

Amazon has steadily added to its fleet of warehouse robots since it acquired Kiva Systems for $775 million a decade ago. Kiva evolved into Amazon Robotics, the company’s in-house incubator of robotic fulfillment systems.

Amazon in June unveiled its first fully autonomous robot that can operate alongside warehouse workers, in addition to other systems that can sort and move packages. It also acquired Cloostermans, which develops warehouse machinery and robotics.

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