Amazon is integrating a new robotics system into its warehouses to improve delivery times, safety and general operations. The AI-powered technology, known as Sequoia, could improve the speed of finding and storing products by up to 75 percent and order fulfillment by up to 25 percent, the Wall Street Journal reports. The system was already introduced in one of Amazon's Houston-based warehouses.
Sequoia involves vehicles transporting totes of products to a sorting machine. It uses robotic arms and computer vision to identify the inventory before sending it to employees for delivery. One of the safety claims is that this process provides workers with items at waist level, eliminating the need for them to reach for things on high shelves. Sequoia follows the 2022 warehouse introduction of Sparrow, an AI-powered robotic arm that can identify and move the products that remain after this step.
Despite naming safety as a motivator for Sequoia and Sparrow, Amazon's record isn't great in this area. A 2020 report from the Center for Investigative Reporting's Reveal publication found that, between 2016 and 2019, Amazon employees working at automated warehouses sustained injuries at a rate double that of those not working alongside robots (Amazon has publicly disputed this reporting). The use of robots increased the number of items employees needed to scan from 100 to up to 400 per hour. It's also unclear if Sequoia's implementation will lead to layoffs.
Update, 1:15PM ET: This story has been updated to note that Amazon has publicly disagreed with the data reported by Reveal in 2020 about injuries at Amazon warehouses using automation.