Online commerce giant Amazon now has over 750,000 robots working collaboratively with its employees, taking on highly repetitive tasks and freeing up workers to better deliver for customers, the company said in a blog post today.
The Seattle-based company’s latest generation of robot models includes a variety of designs, including the piece picking robotic arm called Sparrow, the package sorting robotic arm called Cardinal, and the company’s first autonomous mobile robot (AMR) known as Proteus.
Now, the latest new system to join that stable is called Sequoia, which is now operating at an Amazon fulfillment center in Houston, Texas. According to the blog post by Scott Dresser, VP at Amazon Robotics, Sequoia integrates multiple robot systems to containerize inventory into totes, bringing together mobile robots, gantry systems, robotic arms, and an ergonomic employee workstation.
The process 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 an ergonomic workstation that allows them to do all their work in their “power zone” between mid-thigh and mid-chest height, thus avoiding the extra effort required to regularly reach above their heads or squat down to pick customer orders, Dresser said.
The company also described its research efforts to test future approaches to automation, conducted at its robotics research and development site just south of Seattle. There, Amazon is currently using a mobile manipulator solution that can move while also grasping and handling items. It will also soon begin testing a bipedal robot called Digit that is supplied by Agility Robotics, a startup firm that is funded by Amazon’s Industrial Innovation Fund.
Amazon says its initial use for Digit is 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.
These latest models follow earlier robot designs created by Amazon, such as Robin, a robotic arm that identifies and places items onto a sort-bot, RWC4, an arm that sort totes and builds pallets, and Kermit, a trolley that tows empty totes through the facility along variable routes. Before that, the company had also deployed variations of two rolling mobile units it called Xanthus and Pegasus.