Robotics have always played a keen role at Amazon’s vast product warehouses. With millions of packages being prepared and deployed per day, the combination of a human workforce and robotic assistants is what keeps the company going at a breakneck speed.
At present, robots assist in a variety of ways during the packing process, primarily by moving totes to employees who then select inventory to be packaged. Once packaged, Amazon’s other robotic arms – code named Robin and Cardinal – help to redirect packages to other parts of the warehouse for delivery.
There was still room for improvement in this process, however it presented its own set of technical challenges for the team at Amazon. Specifically, the problem of handling millions of different products of various shapes and sizes, and being able to efficiently direct them to the correct packing bin.
Amazon’s answer to this complex problem comes in the form of Sparrow, a major advancement for the company’s investment into industrial robots. Sparrow is the first robotic system in Amazon’s warehouses that can detect, select, and handle individual products in its inventory. Utilizing computer vision and AI, Sparrow is able to recognize millions of items from Amazon’s warehouse, and deftly handle each one. A number of suction cups at the end of Sparrow’s arm allow it to grip items securely, before transferring them to a packing crate. The robot can pick items up from a variety of angles as well, regardless of how they’ve been placed in a crate, and can intelligently place them ready for packing in the most efficient way.
The purpose of Sparrow’s introduction is to take on repetitive tasks in the packing process, thus freeing up employees to focus on other tasks. Last year, the company picked, stowed, or packed approximately 5 billion packages with the help of various robotic technologies. Amazon has said that the continued investment into robotics and associated tech has introduced over 700 new categories of jobs into the company, with a continuing push for technological innovation in the fulfilment process.