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Amazon is plumbing warehouse work with robots

Science & Tech.20 Nov 2023| A-AA+

In News

  • Amazon is aiming to master mobility and manipulation inside the warehouse with the help of robots. While mobility makes robots move things faster inside the facility, manipulation helps them pick and place items from totes.
Mobile autonomous vehicles
  • Mobile autonomous vehicles, that may potentially replace forklifts in warehouses, move specific racks based on request. Using computer vision, these floor-based robotic vehicles identify the rack where a particular product is placed.
  • Once they identify the rack, they slide under the shelf, slightly lift it up and move to the next point where a warehouse worker will handle the packaging process.
  • Some of the packaging is also handled by robotic systems.
  • For instance, if the product is under a specified weight, an automated conveyor belt system takes care of packaging and labelling before the item is taken out of the facility.
Replacing Humans
  • Amazon claims to be the world’s largest manufacturer of industrial robots, and the retail giant has already deployed over 7.5 lakh robots across its facilities globally.
  • The retail juggernaut is planning to induct Agility Robotics’s state-of-the-art bipedal robot into its army of robots.
  • These robots, in some important ways, mimic what humans do at the Amazon facility. It will take time to know how well these robots will perform and how they can adapt to working with other robotic systems.
  • Amazon is aiming to master mobility and manipulation with the help of robots.
  • By manipulation, Amazon means making robots grasp and handle things. While mobility makes robots move things faster inside the facility, manipulation helps them pick and place items.
  • The retail giant plans a similar approach to humanoid robot deployment. Based on employee feedback from the current testing, the company may make changes to the robotic system before they are widely rolled out to other facilities.
Why Amazon introduced robots?
  • This new robotic system, which may be rolled out in some of its warehouses, is introduced amid increasing scrutiny of Amazon’s health and safety records.
  • In February, the U.S. Department of Labour proposed penalties to the retailer after safety inspectors “found Amazon exposed warehouse workers to a high risk of low back injuries and other musculoskeletal disorders.”
  • Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) began investigations into work practices at six warehouses a little over a year ago.
  • Officials found that warehouse workers were prone to injury due to ‘awkwardly twisting, bending and extending themselves to lift item[s].’
  • Amazon’s operating methods are creating hazardous work conditions and processes, leading to serious worker injuries.
  • They need to take these injuries seriously and implement a company-wide strategy to protect their employees from these well-known and preventable hazards.
Future outlook
  • Amazon is also working a lot on generative AI.
  • “It’s a logical extension of the sort of narrower ML [machine Learning] work that we’ve been doing in the past.
  • But we’re really building on the foundation models to optimise our systems” to make them “smarter and more intelligent about what they are doing.
  • The robotics division is building frameworks to make different robotic units talk to each other effectively and plan tasks optimally. 
Source- The Hindu