- Amazon is testing a new robotic system that can detect, select and handle individual products, the first time a robot has that capability in its warehouses, the company said last week.
- The system, named Sparrow, can handle millions of diverse products by tapping into computer vision and artificial intelligence, according to Amazon. It moves items prior to packaging, relieving employees of repetitive tasks.
- Sparrow is currently in the research and development phase, and the company is weighing several factors before deploying it at scale, spokesperson Xavier Van Chau said in an email.
Amazon workers picked, stowed or packed more than 13 million packages per day last year. With Sparrow, Amazon aims to make the fulfillment process more efficient through automation.
Maximizing such efficiencies is particularly important after the company overextended its fulfillment network and became weighed down with added costs.
"Robotics technology enables us to work smarter, not harder, to operate efficiently and safely," Amazon said in its announcement of Sparrow.
The company prioritized automation well before its more recent issues, however. The acquisition of Kiva Systems in 2012 kickstarted a larger robotics presence within its facilities to help handle waves of customer orders. As of June, the company had more than 520,000 robotic drive units and more than a dozen types of robotic systems in its facilities.
“We have millions of products of all shapes and sizes in our inventory, and we recognized the opportunity to invent new technology that could help handle them at Amazon’s scale,” Amazon said.
Sparrow is expected to complement the other machines in the company's network. Once items are handled by Sparrow and then packaged, existing robotic arms like Robin and Cardinal can redirect them within the warehouse ahead of delivery.
Robotic parcel sorters have been an investment area for companies beyond Amazon. FedEx Express uses robotic arms at its World Hub in Memphis, Tennessee to handle small packages and letters. DHL's e-commerce division has seen improved throughput following the installation of DoraSorter robotic systems at an Atlanta distribution center.