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Amazon automates item handling with intelligent robot

Amazon Sparrow
Amazon's new Sparrow fulfillment center robot.

Amazon’s latest fulfillment center robot moves individual products before they get packaged.

The e-tail titan is rolling out “Sparrow,” a new intelligent robotic system that can detect, select, and handle individual products in its inventory. Leveraging computer vision and artificial intelligence (AI), Sparrow can recognize and handle millions of unique items for picking, stowing and packing before they are shipped – at scale.

Technology (see below) moves Amazon totes to fulfillment center employees who select inventory to be packaged. Once the items are boxed up, existing robotic armscanners then redirect packages to various locations in the warehouse before they begin their delivery journey.

Working with Amazon fulfillment center employees, Sparrow will perform repetitive tasks, enabling workers to focus their time and energy on other workflows, while also advancing safety. At the same time, Sparrow will help the company drive efficiency by automating a critical part of the fulfillment process.

Amazon focuses on next-gen fulfillment center robotics

Amazon has been actively developing new, leading-edge robotic solutions for usae in its fulfillment centers. In June 2022, the company announced Proteus,” its first fully autonomous mobile robot.

Proteus moves autonomously through Amazon’s fulfillment and sort facilities using advanced safety, perception, and navigation technology developed by Amazon. Amazon is initially deploying Proteus in outbound handling areas for GoCarts (manual wheeled package transports) in its fulfillment centers and sort centers.

In June, Amazon also introduced Cardinal, a robotic lifting arm that uses AI and computer vision to efficiently select one package out of a pile of packages, lift it, read the label, and precisely place it in a GoCart.

Leveraging Cardinal, Amazon says it can sort packages earlier in the shipping process with reduced risk of employee injury, resulting in faster process time in the facility. The company says shipping operations also run more smoothly because Cardinal converts batch-based manual work into continuous, automated work.

Amazon is testing a prototype of Cardinal for handling packages of up to 50 pounds, and expects to deploy the technology in fulfillment centers in 2023.

Based on feedback from employees, the company created Amazon Robotics Identification (AR ID), an AI-based scanning capability with computer vision and ML technology to enable easier scanning of packages in supply chain facilities.

AR ID removes the manual scanning process by using a camera system that runs at 120 frames per second, and is designed to let employees can handle packages freely with both hands.

Containerized storage
Amazon’s recently launched Containerized Storage System determines which pod has the container with the needed product, where that container is located in the pod, how to grab and pull the container to the employee, and how to pick it up once the employee has retrieved the product.

“In our focus on robotics, we knew we had an opportunity to dig deeper into research and development to support individual product handling,” Amazon said in a corporate blog post. “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. Beyond the technological advancements of Sparrow, what we’re truly excited about are the implications the technology has and the ways it will benefit our employees and customers.”

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