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Agility Robotics Says its Robots will Reduce Injuries in Workers 

29 Oct, 2023 Liz Carey

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Salem, OR ( – New robot technology could help protect Amazon warehouse workers from repetitive motion injuries, robotics company Agility Robotics said this week.  

Agility announced it will partner with Amazon to test its robot – Digit – for use in the mega-retailers operations. Digit will work in Amazon’s research and development facility first, Agility said. The human-like robot will work alongside Amazon employees, Agility said, taking on jobs too dangerous or too repetitive for workers to do.  

“Amazon is a company that is committed to making the work experience of their employees safer, easier, and less repetitive,” Damion Shelton, co-founder and CEO of Agility Robotics, said in a statement. “When we announced our most recent version of Digit earlier this year, this is exactly the type of repetitive material handling deployment we had in mind; one that enables humans to be more human.” 

Agilty describes Digit as “human-centric” made for logistics work. It can move, grasp and handle items in tight spaces and in the corners of a warehouse. The robot’s size and shape are suited for buildings designed for humans, the company said. And both companies said they believe Digit can be used to support workplace safety.  

“There’s an awful lot of what roboticists would call dull, dirty, and dangerous work that people probably shouldn’t be doing,” Shelton told GeekWeek. “It’s either very repetitive, or very hard, or both. And it just causes wear and tear. The evolution of labor has been towards higher-skill, lower-risk jobs, and we see robots as helping that process to continue in the modern world.” 

Digit looks human-like. Its head includes LED eyes that blink to indicate it’s turning, like a car. With multiple sensors and cameras, it can scan its environment. With two robotic arms and legs, it can sense, grasp and move objects as well as navigate the warehouse environment.  

Amazon will test the robots by putting them to work in “tote recycling” where totes used to pick up inventory. Once the totes have been emptied, they are collected and moved. Digit will do the repetitive work for human employees, organizing and repositioning the containers, saving them from repetitive motion injuries.  

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, repetitive motions and microtasks accounted for more than 16,000 workplace injuries in 2021. A 2000 report found that repetitive motion, like grasping tools, scanning groceries and typing, resulted in the longest absences from work – a median of 19 days.  

Testing will take some time, the companies said. Emily Vetterick, director of engineering for Amazon Robotics, said the company is just at the beginning of its testing phase which will include getting worker feedback.  

“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,” Vetterick said in a statement. “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.” 

But the robots won’t be taking over human jobs any time soon. The testing process will take time, she said.  

“Amazon has a very rigorous product development cycle, and we are at the very early stages of testing,” Vetterick said at a demo of Digit earlier in October. “We start from very small tests, and we incrementally build confidence that we’re solving the right problems for our customers and improving the employee experience.” 

Vetterick said employee feedback is part of the process of testing, and that how employees react to the robot will be part of the company’s evaluation process.  

Once testing is successful, Agility said, the robot will be available to other customers. Members of its Agility Partner Program will get their own Digit devices in 2024, and the robots will be available to the general market in 2025.  

In anticipation, Agility announced recently it will open RoboFab, a 70,000-square-foot robot manufacturing facility in Salem, Or. It anticipates making hundreds of Digits in the first year, but notes the facility has the capability to scale up to making more than 10,000 robots per year.  

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    About The Author

    • Liz Carey

      Liz Carey has worked as a writer, reporter and editor for nearly 25 years. First, as an investigative reporter for Gannett and later as the Vice President of a local Chamber of Commerce, Carey has covered everything from local government to the statehouse to the aerospace industry. Her work as a reporter, as well as her work in the community, have led her to become an advocate for the working poor, as well as the small business owner.

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