As Amazon continues to develop its robot technology, it appears to be moving closer to achieving the dream of having robots perform tasks just as well as humans.
A recent video shows a robotic arm that can pick up objects weighing hundreds of pounds.
It might be able to replace some human warehouse workers someday or make their jobs easier.
With so many companies competing for customer attention, it makes sense that retailers would want to automate their operations as much as they possibly can.
According to internal research, if the company did not make a number of significant changes, such as boosting automation in its warehouses, it could not have enough workers to hire in the US by 2024.
At the same time, the company faces the prospect of its employees starting to organize and potentially strike, labor activists have long suspected that Amazon may be trying to increase its use of automated technology to prevent any potential strikes from disrupting operations.
The company’s director of Robotics AI, Siddhartha Srinivasa, said: “[W]e have an incredible opportunity to help advance the science of robotic manipulation in ways that meaningfully benefit our employees and our customers. Our investments in robotics and technology are helping make jobs in our facilities better, easier, and safer, as well as creating new career opportunities for our people.”
Amazon has announced a number of initiatives designed to improve the working conditions of employees within its warehouses.
These include the introduction of automated guided vehicles (AGVs) to transport inventory around warehouses; and the development of robotic arms capable of picking, packing, and shipping orders.
The new device is capable of handling objects of varying sizes, including those that weigh up to 2lbs.
The machine is designed to work alongside human employees, who can also operate the device.
It can pick up items from shelves and place them into boxes, which can then be loaded onto trucks and sent off to customers.
On a bigger scale, the two-pound weight constraint would still allow the robot to grip a variety of things making up nearly half of Amazon’s complete product range.
The company is working on solutions to allow the robot to handle any product without weight constraints.
It’s difficult to estimate how long it will take Amazon to create a single robot that can handle the majority of items.
But once they do, we’ll have an idea of whether automated warehouses will improve the lives of humans who currently perform these tasks.
In June, Amazon launched a prototype of a robotic sorting machine named Cardinal that picks up and packs already-ordered goods and, the firm claims, “reduce[s] the risk of injury to employees” by doing so.
Amazon’s history in robotic technology goes back to when it bought Kiva for $775M.
Since then, it has deployed more than half a million robo-warehouses across its US warehouses.
Over the past ten years, it has also hired more than one million people and pointed to this fact to try and refute the idea that advances in automation are leading to job loss.
“From the early days of the Kiva acquisition, our vision was never tied to a binary decision of people or technology,” the company said in a recent blog post.
“Instead, it was about people and technology working safely and harmoniously together to deliver for our customers. That vision remains today.”
Some Amazon warehouse tasks were simplified by the Kiva robots. Robots now deliver shelves to employees in picker or stower duties at a fixed workplace, where they stand for 10 hours each day with padding under their feet.
Before Kiva, these employees of Amazon would walk 10 to 20 miles each day while retrieving inventory from aisle after aisle of shelves.
Kiva robotics also came with some drawbacks. Before the arrival of Kiva, a worker might have been able to complete 100 tasks per hour, but Amazon tripled those goals when the robot took over for human labor.
With the introduction of Kiva, injury rates rose because workers were forced to work at a faster pace to meet their new quota.
The task performed by the Amazon Robotics team could potentially have a more direct overlap between what they’re doing and what humans already do.
While the robotic arm in the video picks items off a shelf and moves them to another, it does so at a much faster pace than a human would.
However, while the robotic arm can move items from one spot to another, it doesn’t have to go through the same process of finding those items in the first place.
Humans in Amazon’s warehouse must retrieve items from racks, while the robots only have to find the right shelf where the item is stored.
In addition, while the robotic arm can move items from one shelf to another, it doesn’t have to climb any steps to get to the higher shelf.
Human pickers have to climb stairs to access items on high racks, while the robotic arm just needs to move from one shelf to another.
Finally, while the robotic arm picks items directly from the shelf, human pickers often have to grab items off the shelf before they can put them in boxes.
Even though there are no clear answers yet, we might see some improvements soon.
Once that happens, it’s hard to imagine that at least some warehouse jobs won’t be replaced by automation.
Robotics engineers say that someday soon, Amazon could have an actual choice between having humans or machines handle most of the tasks at its fulfillment centers.
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