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Amazon deploys 10,000 robot workers, a year after Obama’s famous Amazon jobs speech

Published: May 31, 2014
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Source: Extreme Tech

The Robots are coming

It is clear that no sense of irony is needed to be successful in politics. If it was, then President Obama’s team might have thought more deeply about their choice of an Amazon warehouse as a showcase for one of his key speeches about jobs in the United States. Leaving aside whether warehouse jobs are great jobs or not, no company has been more aggressive as Amazon when it comes to eliminating human labor in the supply chain. When we first covered Amazon’s acquisition of warehouse-robotics company Kiva for $775 million in 2012, Amazon bragged of having 1,000 robots in its warehouses. Now CEO Bezos has said the number will be closer to 10,000 by the end of this year. Amazon claims that current employees won’t be sacked because of the additional 9,000 robots, but obviously the robots are doing a lot of work that would otherwise have required additional human employees.

Watching videos of the step-stool-shaped orange bots race around the warehouse floor, it’s easy to see that they are faster and more efficient than humans trying to do the same job. By realizing that making the shelves come to the pickers instead of the pickers go to the shelves, Kiva made it possible to deploy relatively simple robots to automate a big part of pick-and-pack operations. The actual packing of products into boxes is still done by hand, but specific products are pointed to by a computer using a small laser, so the human packer is unlikely to make a mistake. Big data crunching going on in the background makes the system even more efficient than a traditional warehouse. The robots are guided to shelves that are nearest them, and frequently-used shelves are put back near the packing station. Since that process is dynamic, the warehouse reconfigures itself based on seasonal demand. For example, before the Christmas rush, toys and ornaments will be stored near the packing station, while in the summer it might be sports and camping equipment.

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