Amazon Conducts Trials of Humanoid Robots to ‘Empower’ Employees

Amazon is currently conducting trials of humanoid robots in its United States-based warehouses, marking the latest indication of the tech giant’s increasing automation of a substantial portion of its operations.

Amazon stated that this move is aimed at “empowering employees to better serve our customers.” The company revealed that it is testing a novel robot named Digit, equipped with both arms and legs, capable of movement, grasping, and handling objects in a manner closely resembling that of a human.

A labor union expressed the view that Amazon has been “treating their workers like robots for years.” Stuart Richards, an organizer with the UK trade union GMB, asserted, “Amazon’s automation is a headlong race towards job losses. We have already witnessed hundreds of jobs disappearing in fulfillment centers due to this.”

In response to this, Amazon claimed that its robotic systems have, in fact, played a role in creating “hundreds of thousands of new jobs” within its operations. The company specified that this includes the establishment of 700 categories of new job types, in skilled roles, that previously did not exist within the company.

According to the tech giant, it currently employs more than 750,000 robots that work “collaboratively” alongside its human workforce, often undertaking “highly repetitive tasks.”

Tye Brady, Chief Technologist of Amazon Robotics, conveyed during a media briefing in Seattle that people remain “irreplaceable” and contested the notion that the company might eventually transition to fully automated warehouses. He remarked, “There is no part of me that thinks that would ever become a reality. People are integral to the fulfillment process; their ability to think at a higher level and diagnose problems.”

Distinct from utilizing wheels for mobility, Digit walks on two legs and possesses arms that enable it to lift and transport packages, containers, customer orders, and objects. Scott Dresser of Amazon Robotics explained that this feature allows Digit to navigate steps and stairs or locations within Amazon’s facilities that require upward and downward movement.

Nonetheless, Dresser noted that Digit is currently in the prototype stage, and the trial aims to assess its compatibility and safe coexistence with human employees. He described it as an experiment intended to learn more about how mobile robots and manipulators can be effectively employed in Amazon’s environment.

Dresser emphasized that concerns about human jobs being displaced do not align with Amazon’s actual experience. He pointed out that new technologies have created jobs and facilitated growth and expansion. He also highlighted that the maintenance and repair of these technologies still require human intervention.

In recent years, Amazon has significantly increased its use of robots as it faces mounting pressure to reduce costs. In the previous year, the company announced its trials of a large robotic arm capable of picking up items. Amazon already employs wheeled robots to transport goods within its warehouses, and it has begun using drones for deliveries in select U.S. states.