Amazon to invest $40M in new robotics hub

  • Amazon on Wednesday announced plans to invest $40 million in a new 350,000-square-foot robotics innovation hub in Westborough, Massachusetts, slated to open in 2021.
  • The new facility, together with an existing Amazon Robotics facility in North Reading, Massachusetts, will serve “as the company’s epicenter of robotics innovation,” Amazon said in a press release.
  • The Westborough site will include offices, labs and manufacturing space, allowing Amazon to “design, build, program, and ship our robots, all under the same roof,” according to Amazon Robotics’ Chief Technologist Tye Brady.

Dive Insight:

While Amazon did not specify what types of robotics it would develop at the site, past examples of Amazon Robotics technology point to innovations that solve pain points in operations and logistics.

Within facilities, Amazon’s robots automate parts of the fulfillment process. Amazon said in a blog post fulfillment center robots carry inventory and transport pallets.

Dozens of Amazon warehouses and fulfillment centers also utilize cobots, where “robots and people work together to pick, sort, transport, and stow packages.” The e-commerce giant reportedly started introducing packing robots into facilities earlier this year, with the ability to pack at four to five times the rate of the average human packer.

Pegasus robots deposit parcels to the correct location in Amazon’s “sortation center.” | Credit: Amazon 

Amazon has also deployed robots in its “sortation centers” to reduce the number of miss sorts. The bots, known as Pegasus, feature a conveyer belt that receives a package and deposits the parcel to the correct location in the sortation center.

Still, Amazon is at least a decade away from lights-out operations.

Picking tends to be a function better suited to humans due to the dexterity needed to pick objects of varying shapes and sizes. New robotics, however, are being developed with better gripping technology. In food manufacturing, vacuum grippers, suction cups and soft grippers can carefully grab delicate items like produce or pastries without leaving a mark.

Outside the four walls, Amazon has focused on robots for the last mile of the supply chain. Its six-wheeled, autonomous bot Scout is undergoing tests to make deliveries to consumers. Amazon recently filed a patent application for last-mile robots to use onboard sensors to help them cross the street.

Regardless of what innovations come out of Amazon’s new hub in 2021 and beyond, the $40 million investment shows the e-commerce giant is banking on automated technology to help meet the needs of a modern-day supply chain, in which Amazon has set the bar for lightning fast fulfillment and delivery.