A recent video published on Amazon’s science blog features a new “pinch-grasping” robot system that has the potential to one day do a lot of the work that humans in Amazon warehouses do today. Or, at least potentially, help workers do their jobs more efficiently. Today, vacuum suction is the default technology for picking up and moving smaller objects in logistics operations.
The topic of automation has become more relevant than ever in the retail and e-commerce industries. Amazon, the second largest private employer in the US, has conducted research suggesting that they could run out of workers to hire in the US by 2024 if it did not execute a series of sweeping changes, including increasing automation in its warehouses. At the same time, it’s facing the prospect of US workers starting to unionise after a victory by the Amazon Labour Union in Staten Island and another upcoming union election in October in Upstate New York. Labour activists have long speculated that Amazon might ramp up automation efforts in response to unionisation activity.
Amazon continues to launch new machines in warehouses. In June, the company unveiled a package ferrying machine called Proteus, which it referred to as its first fully autonomous mobile robot (AMR). It has also deployed other robots that can help sort and move packages. It has been building out these technologies both organically and inorganically. Amazon’s latest acquisition in the space is privately owned Cloostermans, a Belgium company with around 200 employees, which it bought in early September.