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Amazon's Quest for the 'Holy Grail' of Robotics


Employees build robots at an Amazon robotics innovation hub in Westborough, MA.

Amazon’s recently unveiled robots could help the company lower both injury rates and turnover in its warehouses, says Tye Brady, chief technologist at Amazon Global Robotics.

Credit: Joseph Prezioso/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

For decades, one of the hardest problems for robot developers to crack has been something seemingly mundane: how to replicate the human hand's ability to pick up stuff.

Amazon.com has just come a lot closer to achieving this elusive goal, with a leap in its automation prowess that promises far-reaching effects for its huge workforce and its future growth ambitions.

The tech giant last month unveiled a collection of new robots, one of which is suited to replacing humans in the most common job at Amazon – picking up items and placing them elsewhere. The linchpin of this new kind of automation is a robot arm – appropriately named Sparrow after the tenacious, pervasive bird – that combines advanced artificial intelligence, a variety of grippers, and the speed and precision that is now standard in off-the-shelf industrial robotic arms.

The announcement was easy to miss, coming as it did amid a run of news that, in part, illustrated some of the challenges Amazon is trying to tackle with its automation effort. The company began layoffs of corporate employees in mid-November, part of a sweeping cost-cutting effort to deal with the aftereffects of its rapid expansion during the pandemic.

From The Wall Street Journal
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