Amazon trials four robots to improve employee safety

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Amazon is testing four robotic solutions at its advanced technology labs, in Seattle and Northern Italy, to create systems that will improve work safety for its employees.

The e-commerce company has showcased the robots, nicknamed Bert, Ernie, Kermit and Scooter, in newly released videos.

Currently in Amazon fulfilment centres, employees pick or stow items onto mobile shelves as products move through the process of fulfilling customer orders. The company said to potentially reduce the need for employees to reach up or bend down when retrieving items, it is testing a new workstation system called Ernie.

Ernie takes totes off of a robotic shelf and uses a robotic arm to deliver it to employees. The solution has been designed to allow workers to remain in a more comfortable, stable, and ergonomically friendly position.

Kevin Keck, worldwide director of advanced technology at Amazon, said: “We’re known for being passionate about innovating for customers, but being able to innovate with robotics for our employees is something that gives me an extra kick of motivation each day.

“The innovation with a robot like Ernie is interesting because while it doesn’t make the process go any faster, we’re optimistic, based on our testing, it can make our facilities safer for employees.”

In the same research lab, three different types of autonomous robots are going through varying phases of testing and development.

Bert is one of Amazon’s first autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) that is not confined to a restricted space enabling operators to summon Bert to carry items across a facility. Amazon aims to develop Bert further to move larger, heavier items or carts that are used to transport multiple packages. This would lessen the strain on employees.

Furthermore, Scooter and Kermit also operate autonomously, but unlike Bert, both transport carts carrying empty totes and packages through facilities. Amazon added by having Autonomously Guided Carts (AGCs) like Scooter and Kermit perform physical tasks, it believes fulfilment centres will be safer.

It will also enable employees to focus on jobs that require their critical thinking skills. In addition, using an AGCs like Scooter to pull carts through its facilities reduces the risk of strains on employees, or even collisions.

Amazon plan to deploy Scooter to at least one facility later this year.

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