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Robots Stuck with One of Amazon's Most Boring Jobs

The robots are coming — and they’re being stuck with a truly thankless task.

The hope for any workplace is that incoming robot colleagues don’t replace the humans, but instead take on the most boring, repetitive or potentially hazardous jobs that people don’t want to do anymore. Well, if you work in an Amazon fulfillment center, good news. The robots are coming and they’re being stuck with a truly thankless task.

The e-commerce company recently expanded its relationship with Agility Robotics, a startup developing Digit, a “human-centric” multi-purpose robot designed for logistics work. And Amazon’s initial plans for Digit involve tote recycling, which is described as “a highly repetitive process of picking up and moving empty totes once inventory has been completely picked out of them.”

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Emily Vetterick, director of engineering at Amazon, said “Digit’s size and shape are well-suited for buildings that are designed for humans, and we believe that there is a big opportunity to scale a mobile manipulator solution. Collaborative robotics solutions like Digit support workplace safety and help Amazon deliver to customers faster, while creating new opportunities and career paths for our employees.”

For Agility, testing with Amazon will serve as an important proving ground for Digit, which is being built to safely work alongside people. Digit will first undergo testing at Amazon’s robotics research and development facility near Seattle. If that goes well, Digit could soon be used to make the logistics process less tedious for Amazon’s human workforce.

Agility is betting big on the viability of Digit. The company recently announced plans to build RoboFab, a 70,000-square-foot robot manufacturing facility in nearby Salem, Oregon. Agility expects to produce hundreds of Digit robots in the first year and to eventually scale production up to 10,000 robots per year. In addition to heading off to companies like Amazon, some of Agility’s robots will also stay home to help make more robots.

It’s a virtuous cycle, one that hopefully someday produces enough robots so humans never have to do anything boring ever again.

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