The Delivering the Future event at the Amazon Robotics Innovation Hub just took place, and Amazon introduced some new robots.
The Sparrow is designed to perform repetitive tasks in a warehouse environment. Using AI and computer vision, it can pick up a wide range of objects, including sheets, bottles of vitamins, and flat boxes, all with the same components. Amazon says that the Sparrow can successfully pick up and move 65% of their inventory in a warehouse setting.
Warehouse work is key for Amazon, and it can be grueling work for human beings. Amazon claims that its warehouse robots increase safety for its human workers, though reports show that robot-enabled warehouses do not in fact have lower accident rates than other warehouses within their system.
It is entirely possible that robot could reduce injuries if they were used effectively for that purpose, however. Instead, internal reports suggest, “The data back up the accounts of Amazon warehouse workers and former safety professionals who say the company has used the robots to ratchet up production quotas to the point that humans can’t keep up without hurting themselves.”
This does not mean that robots make the work more dangerous, but that they are being used in ways that make the work more dangerous.
This is an important distinction. The narrative of dangerous robots taking over our workplaces tends to leave out the human decisions that lead to the increased levels of danger.
Another new item reveled at the show was the MK30, a new delivery drone that can fly in the rain. It will deliver packages weighing less than 5 pounds. It’s smaller and quieter than the previous iterations Amazon has tried, and potentially less expensive than the current truck deliveries.
Amazon’s drone delivery program has been plagued by accidents and delays, which Bloomberg reported id part of the reason that it is difficult to get drone deliveries approved by federal regulators.
The MK30 has new safety features that should help keep it from running into people, trees, or pets as frequently as previous drones have done.
Amazon hopes to deploy the new drone in 2024.