The rise of automation could be set to enter hyperdrive speed at Amazon warehouses nationwide in response to Covid lockdowns, unionization, and the drive to improve margins via reducing labor costs. Human order pickers could be replaced within this decade by a new robotic arm that relies entirely on artificial intelligence and suction cups to identify and fulfill customer orders.
Amazon unveiled the "Sparrow" robot on Thursday," which can detect, select, and handle millions of items in a warehouse to complete a customer order, rendering a human picker obsolete.
"Leveraging computer vision and artificial intelligence (AI), Sparrow can recognize and handle millions of items. Last year, with the support of Amazon technologies, our employees around the world picked, stowed, or packed approximately 5 billion packages—or over 13 million packages per day," the company wrote in a press release.
"It's a major leap in technology challenge, and technology development," Joe Quinlivan, a vice president of robotics and fulfillment technologies at the company, said during a press event unveiling the device. He said robots would replace the most repetitive-motion jobs in the future.
Suppose Sparrow is widely deployed at fulfillment centers nationwide. In that case, this could mean hundreds of thousands of warehouse workers will be jobless in the coming years, if not by the end of the decade, as the company aims to automate warehouses fully.
Automation aims to prevent shutdowns of warehouses in another health crisis. It also drives down mounting labor costs as workers fight to unionize.
Amazon's increased focus on robots indicates its master plan to reduce reliance on its human workforce. Meanwhile, for those workers trying to escape the warehouse hell of long hours and learning to code, well, the tidal wave of tech layoffs is even more bad news.