June 23, 2024

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Amazon to launch humanoid robots to ‘free up’ staff

2 min read

Amazon is trialling humanoid robots in its US warehouses, in the latest sign of the tech giant automating more of its operations.

Amazon said the move was about “freeing employees up to better deliver for our customers”.

It said it was testing a new robot called Digit, which has arms and legs and can move, grasp and handle items in a similar fashion to a human.

A union said Amazon had “been treating their workers like robots for years”.

“Amazon’s automation is [a] head-first race to job losses. We’ve already seen hundreds of jobs disappear to it in fulfilment centres,” said Stuart Richards, an organiser at UK trade union GMB.

As the announcement was made, Amazon said its robotics systems had in fact helped create “hundred of thousands of new jobs” within its operations.

“This includes 700 categories of new job types, in skilled roles, which didn’t exist within the company beforehand,” the firm said.

According to the tech giant, it now has more than 750,000 robots working “collaboratively” with its human staff, often being used to take on “highly repetitive tasks”.

Amazon Robotics’ chief technologist, Tye Brady, told reporters at a media briefing in Seattle that people were “irreplaceable”, and disputed the suggestion that the company could have fully-automated warehouses in the future.

“There’s not any part of me that thinks that would ever be a reality,” he said.

“People are so central to the fulfilment process; the ability to think at a higher level, the ability to diagnose problems.”

Legs not wheels

Rather than using wheels to move, Digit walks on two legs. It also has arms that can pick up and move packages, containers, customer orders and objects.

Scott Dresser of Amazon Robotics told media this allowed it to “deal with steps and stairs or places in our facility where we need to move up and down”.

But he said the robot was a prototype and the trial was about seeing whether it could work safely with human employees.

“It’s an experiment that we’re running to…

Business Matters

2023-10-19 15:20:06

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