Long, lanky humanoid robots get to work at Amazon facility

Tall, capable, and vaguely insectoid looking, a series of Digit robots are now moving around empty bins at an Amazon research and development facility. The trial run is the first step towards using the bots to automate repetitive warehouse processes.

The robots were provided for the test program by Agility Robotics, an Amazon-backed tech company whose flagship product is the humanoid Digit robot. Measuring 5.7 ft (175 cm) tall, the robot has grasshopper-like legs that the company refers to as “backwards legs,” which allow it to crouch to pick up items off the floor and lift them to nearly six feet high. Digit can lift packages weighing up to 35 lb (16 kg) and it can walk in nearly all directions, handle stairs and uneven terrain, and even walk while in a crouched position.

Amazon, which says it now has over 750,000 robots working for it, indicates that Digit isn’t meant to take jobs away but rather, to “work collaboratively with employees.” The company says the bots will be tasked with the repetitive process of recycling empty totes that no longer have inventory in them.

This isn’t Digit’s first foray into the working world where it is certainly never going to replace human workers (yes, that is meant to be read dripping in sarcasm). In 2019 a creepier, headless version of the bot was trialed in a partnership with Ford for the autonomous delivery of packages to homes. And just last year, Digit began doing its thing at the warehouse that handles fulfillment for the women’s wear brand, Spanx, as you can see in the following video.

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Nor is Digit the first humanoid robot to get to work in the real world. At the start of this year, it was announced that robotics company Figure would be supplying its slick metallic humanoid bots to BMW’s plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina, where they’ll be trained for staged deployment.

While Digit is certainly impressive in all of its crouching, backwards walking and lifting abilities, it is still a somewhat rudimentary robot in terms of fine motor skills. That could change sooner than many might think based on another bot we reported on last month, from a company called Sanctuary AI. While that bot can’t walk, it has some amazingly fast and skillful hydraulically activated hands, so you can imagine that morphing that tech with the motor skills of Digit or other bots from companies like Boston Dynamics can’t be too far off on the horizon.

For now though, Agility Robotics feels pretty confident that Digit can bring value to the workforce as is, as evidenced by the construction of a 70,000-sq-ft (6,503-sq-m) facility in Salem, Oregon. Known as the “RoboFab” manufacturing plant, the facility will reportedly have the capacity to produce more than 10,000 Digit robots per year.

You can watch Digit getting busy at Amazon’s research and development facility just south of Seattle, Washington, and hear from Agility Robotics’ Chief Commercial Officer, Rich Bhone, in the following video.

Agility Robotics Broadens Relationship with Amazon

Sources: Amazon, Agility Robotics

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