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Amazon has unveiled the latest addition to its collection of warehouse robots. Meet Sparrow, a robotic arm capable of picking individual products before they get packaged.
Unlike Amazon’s Robin and Cardinal robots, which pick and organize packages to be sent out for delivery, Sparrow can handle individual products. This isn’t a simple task in a place like an Amazon warehouse, where over 100 million different items could need to be processed. Sparrow can pick 65% of them, according to the company. Sparrow can pick a variety of items, like DVDs, socks and stuffed animals, but struggled with items that have loose or complex packaging.
Amazon also recently announced another robot that its robotics team has been developing, an autonomous mobile robot for moving oversized items. This robot targets the 10% of items ordered from the Amazon Store that are too long, wide or unwieldy to fit in the company’s pods or on its conveyor belts.
These robots have the ability to understand the 3D structure of the world and how those structures distinguish each object in it. The robot can then understand how that object is going to behave based on its knowledge of the structure. This understanding, called semantic understanding or scene comprehension, along with LiDAR and camera data, allows the robot to be able to map its environment in real-time and make decisions on the fly.
While Amazon has been rolling out many new warehouse robots, it has also shut down other robotics activities. In October, news broke that the company is shutting down testing of its Scout home delivery robots.
Scout’s journey began in 2019 when Amazon began testing it in the Seattle area. The sidewalk robot was later rolled out in Southern California, Atlanta and Franklin, Tenn., where they completed deliveries accompanied by an Amazon Scout Ambassador during testing.
While Sparrow’s picking abilities are a first for Amazon, there are many similar systems from third-party players on the market. For example, RightHand Robotics’ RightPick System is built to pick and place individual items as part of fulfillment processes. RightPick uses an intelligent gripper, a vision system and control software to handle millions of different SKUs at a rate of up to 1,200 units per hour.
Other robotics companies, like Dexterity, Covariant, BRIGHTPICK and more have similar pick and place solutions. Amazon developing its own system internally certainly means these companies miss out on a massive potential customer, but it could also help to legitimize these types of systems within the industry.