Amazon has unveiled new technology—a robotic, AI-controlled arm called Sparrow, capable of identifying individual items that vary in shape, size, and texture.
“Sparrow is the first robotic system in our warehouses that can detect, select, and handle individual products in our inventory. In our current research and development efforts, we are working with Sparrow to consolidate inventory before it is packaged for customers but the possible applications of this technology in our operations is much broader,” an Amazon spokesperson said.
Sparrow is able to pick up items via suction cups attached to its surface and place them into separate plastic crates.
The arm can identify over 60 percent of Amazon’s stock, according to Amazon—a feat so far only accomplished by human employees.
Sparrow has the potential to replace significant numbers of mundane labor jobs.
How quickly Sparrow will be integrated into Amazon’s warehouses, however, is still uncertain. A large proportion of the company’s inventory is stored on mesh shelves, generally incompatible for use with robotic arms, according to Bloomberg.
Currently, Amazon says, it already relies on other robot-arm technology, mainly to redirect packages internally between various locations.
Its first autonomous robot, called Proteus, was unveiled in June. Proteus can lift and move package carrying carts.
Around 75 percent of the 5 billion packages the company processes each year are at least partly handled by robots, Amazon told CNBC.
Amazon has rebutted claims that Sparrow could take people’s jobs.
The company insists the robot is designed to work with humans, not against them.
“Working with our employees, Sparrow will take on repetitive tasks, enabling our employees to focus their time and energy on other things, while also advancing safety. At the same time, Sparrow will help us drive efficiency by automating a critical part of our fulfillment process so we can continue to deliver for customers,” the company posted on its website.
Amazon currently employs nearly a million employees in U.S. warehouses, and many of these are warehouse workers working in the sorting roles Sparrow seeks to automate, according to the New York Post.
The technology is currently only active in one warehouse in Texas for testing; the company is planning to roll it out nationwide from next year, the New York Post said.