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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Amazon tests humanoid robot in warehouse automation push

Employees work at Amazon’s Airway Heights fulfillment center on June 7, 2021.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
By Matt Day Bloomberg Inc. says it’s testing two new technologies to increase automation in its warehouses, including a trial of a humanoid robot.

The humanoid robot, called Digit, is bipedal and can squat, bend and grasp items using clasps that imitate hands, the company said in a blog post Wednesday.

It’s built by Agility Robotics Inc. and will initially be used to help employees consolidate totes that have been emptied of items. Amazon invested in Agility Robotics last year.

The retailer, which is the second-largest U.S. employer behind Walmart Inc., has deployed robots in its warehouses for more than a decade, mainly to move inventory to waiting employees.

That system, which starts with humans stuffing inventory items into mesh shelving, is undergoing a transformation to container-based storage, which more easily allows robotic arms and other automated technology to sort and pick items, Bloomberg has reported.

In addition to Digit, Amazon is testing a technology called Sequoia, which will identify and sort inventory into containers for employees, who will then pick the items customers have ordered, the company said.

Remaining products are then consolidated in bins by a robotic arm called Sparrow, which the company revealed last year.

The system is in use at an Amazon warehouse in Houston, the company said in a statement.

Amazon, which has emphasized quick delivery to fend off challenges from ecommerce rivals, said the Sequoia system reduces the time it takes a warehouse to process an order by as much as 25%.

This will also move the process in warehouses closer to an assembly line from the traditional warehouse model of employees searching for items and taking them off shelves.

Company executives have said they aim to use automation in part to free employees from repetitive tasks that can lead to injuries.

Amazon is under fire from Washington state and federal regulators for injury rates that exceed industry averages.