Amazon has revealed that it now has over 750,000 robots working collaboratively with employees, taking on highly repetitive tasks and freeing employees up to “better deliver for our customers”.
With all of these efforts under way, Amazon has just launched a new robotic system in time to help fulfill customer orders for holiday shopping this year. Sequoia is the name of this new technology, and it’s now operating at one of the fulfillment centers in Houston, Texas.
By reimagining how the company stores and manages inventory at its sites, Sequoia will help Amazon delight customers with greater speed and increased accuracy for delivery estimates, while also improving employee safety at the company’s facilities.
Sequoia allows the e-commerce behemoth, to identify and store inventory received at Amazon fulfillment centers up to 75 percent faster than today. This means the company can list items for sale on Amazon.com more quickly, benefiting both sellers and customers.
When orders are placed, Sequoia also reduces the time it takes to process an order through a fulfillment center by up to 25 percent, which improves Amazon shipping predictability and increases the number of goods Amazon can offer for Same-Day or Next-Day shipping.
Building off a series of research and development efforts, Sequoia integrates multiple robot systems to containerize Amazon inventory into totes, bringing together mobile robots, gantry systems, robotic arms, and a new ergonomic employee workstation.
The system works by having mobile robots transport containerized inventory directly to a gantry, a tall frame with a platform supporting equipment that can either restock totes or send them to an employee to pick out inventory that customers have ordered.
These totes come to employees at a newly-designed ergonomic workstation that allows them to do all their work in their power zone, between mid-thigh and mid-chest height.
With this system, employees will no longer have to regularly reach above their heads or squat down to pick customer orders, supporting Amazon efforts to reduce the risk of injuries.
Once customer orders picked from inventory are retrieved, the remaining inventory needs to be consolidated so that Amazon totes are full, and the company is efficiently managing site storage.
This is where Amazon’s newest robotic arm, Sparrow, comes in, taking on the highly repetitive task of consolidating inventory in totes so that full totes can be returned to storage.
Working as a set of integrated robotics systems, Sequoia will dramatically simplify and optimize how Amazon stores goods and help employees pick those goods in a safe way.
This feat is the result of “the ingenuity of Amazon technology teams”, says the online retail giant, as well as the partnership and regular feedback the company gets from operations employees about how it can use automation to make Amazon workplace better.
This collaboration is driving meaningful impact: Company data shows that, in 2022, recordable incident rates and lost-time incident rates were 15 percent and 18 percent lower, respectively, at Amazon Robotics sites than non-robotics sites. Sequoia will help continue this positive trend.
In addition to Sequoia, Amazon Robotics continues to invest in and try novel approaches to automation. That’s why Amazon has also begun testing mobile manipulator solutions at Amazon robotics research and development site just south of Seattle. These are mobile robots that can move while also grasping and handling items.
Broadening its partnership with Agility Robotics, Amazon will begin testing their bipedal robot, Digit, for use in operations. Agility is one of the companies Amazon invested in as part of the Amazon Industrial Innovation Fund. Digit can move, grasp, and handle items in spaces and corners of warehouses in novel ways.
Its size and shape are well suited for buildings that are designed for humans, and Amazon believes that there is a big opportunity to scale a mobile manipulator solution, such as Digit, which can work collaboratively with employees.
Amazon’s initial use for this technology will be to help employees with tote recycling, a highly repetitive process of picking up and moving empty totes once inventory has been completely picked out of them.
Ensuring robotics are collaborative and support employees is central to how Amazon designs or deploys systems like Sequoia and Digit.
Over the last 10 years, Amazon has rolled out hundreds of thousands of robotics systems while also creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs within Amazon operations. This includes 700 categories of new job types, in skilled roles, which didn’t exist within the company beforehand.
By equipping Amazon employees with new technology and training them to develop new skills, the company says it is creating career paths and “new and exciting ways for people to contribute here at Amazon”.