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A Major Leap for Industrial Robotics

Amazon has begun testing Agility’s Digit, a bipedal robot, which could mark a turning point for the industrial robotics industry. This pilot program could see the robotic worker deployed in Amazon fulfillment centers across the nation1.

A New Era for Warehouse Robotics

The tech giant’s interest in humanoid robots isn’t new. In April of last year, Amazon named Agility one of the first five recipients of the company’s $1 billion Industrial Innovation Fund. The fund is designed to explore potential technologies, and while being included doesn’t guarantee future implementation, it indicates Amazon’s interest in the potential of the technology.

Amazon Robotics’ focus on wheeled autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) dates back to its 2012 purchase of Kiva Systems. Their platforms have formed the foundation of Amazon Robotics, with 750,000 AMRs currently deployed across Amazon’s warehouse network.

However, the addition of Agility’s Digit to the lineup signals a shift in the company’s approach. Amazon Robotics chief technologist, Tye Brady, expressed the company’s interest in walking robots, citing their ability to move on different terrains as a significant benefit.

The Impact of Amazon’s Innovation

Amazon’s efforts in industrial robotics have had a profound impact on the sector. The company has raised the bar for competition, driving other businesses to automate to meet growing customer expectations for same- and next-day deliveries.

The integration of any new system into Amazon’s growing robotics ecosystem requires a demonstrated increase in productivity. It’s not about innovation for innovation’s sake but finding any advantage that will get goods to customers faster.

The Future of Humanoid Robots

Humanoid robots are particularly appealing because they can work in spaces designed for humans – dealing with shelving heights, terrain, aisle width, and even stairs, which are a challenge for AMRs. They can also slot nicely into brownfield sites, warehouses, and factories not specifically built with automation solutions in mind.

Agility’s Digit may not be the final form of Amazon’s mobile manipulation plans. Brady hinted at the vast possibilities when different technologies are combined, suggesting that Amazon could mount a robot arm on an AMR for mobile manipulation.

The outcome of the Digit pilots could significantly influence the future of humanoid robots. Regardless of whether Digit succeeds or fails, anyone interested in bipedal robots should pay close attention. The results could reshape our thinking about the category altogether.

This is an exciting time for industrial robotics. As Amazon continues to innovate and push boundaries, we can expect to see more advancements in the field. The potential benefits of these technologies for productivity and efficiency make them well worth watching.

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