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Supply Chain News: Amazon Introduces New Sparrow Piece Handling Robot



Can Handle 65% of Pre-Packaged Amazon SKUs

Nov. 15, 2022


SCDigest Editorial Staff

For several years about a decade ago, Amazon ran a contest it called the "Robotic Picking Challenge."

Engineer teams from around the world competed to see how many random items (e.g., a rubber duck, a toothbrush) their robots could successfully select from static shelving and then drop into a tote.

Supply Chain Digest Says...

Amazon wants the focus of Sparrow to be on how the robot will benefit worker.

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While no team ever achieved performance that would work in a real operating condition, the progress from the first year of the contest to the end a few years later was remarkable in terms of the percent of items successfully picked and the speed at which the picking was conducted.

Flash forward to 2022, and Amazon itself has taken concept to a whole new level, or maybe several levels.

Last week, Amazon announce its new Sparrow robot, a mechanic arm that the company says can effectively select individual items from totes and place them into shipping cartons (see photo below).

Amazon announcement that Sparrow is its first robot designed to identify, select, and handle millions of individual SKUs in its fulfillment centers (FCs).

According to Amazon, Sparrow uses a combination of AI, computer vision, and a suction-cup “hand” that allows the robot to handle about 65% of all pre-packaged products available on Amazon’s website.

This is hardly Amazon first rodeo on FC robotics. In 2012, it acquired mobile robot provider Kiva Systems, and later improved the design of the robots that move inventory to stationary order pickers.

It has also introduced Robin, a new age palletizer and depalletizer, and Cardinal, which grabs and sorts completed shipping cartons on to takeaway robots.

“In our focus on robotics, we knew we had an opportunity to dig deeper into research and development to support individual product handling, the Amazon Sparrow announcement said, adding that “We have millions of products of all shapes and sizes in our inventory, and we recognized the opportunity to invent new technology that could help handle them at Amazon’s scale.”

That scale means addressing the 5 billion or so packages that Amazon picked, stowed, or packed last year.



New Amazon Sparrow Picking Robot

(See More Below)




Amazon wants the focus of Sparrow to be on how the robot will benefit workers.

“Sparrow will take on repetitive tasks, enabling our employees to focus their time and energy on other things, while also advancing safety,” the Amazon announcement said.

However, according the BusinessInsider web site, some workers are naturally enough worried about their employer’s true motives behind Sparrow’s impending rollout. “[It] will take my job,” one FC worker told the outlet, who chose to remain anonymous for fear of company retaliation.

The Amazon announcement did not contain any insight on the pace of the rollout of the Sparrow system.

Do you have any thoughts on the new Sparrow robot?? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback button below (email) or in the Feedback section.




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