Will The Robots Replacing People At Amazon Get My Order Right?

Avatar
Written by Ann Brown

Listen to GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin | Episode 26: Bria Sullivan

Jamarlin talks to Bria Sullivan, a trailblazing mobile-app developer, about her work at Google and how she is helping others get in the game. They discuss internal cultural optimization, and whether African American culture is “underweight” in tech and science and “overweight” in athletics and entertainment. They also discuss Jamarlin’s experience at McKinsey & Co, where an applicant with a 4.0 GPA and near-perfect SAT score was rejected because he was from the “wrong school.”
__________________________________________________________________________________________________

Amazon is already opening 3,000 AmazonGo locations that will be cashierless — meaning “less” employees. Now comes word that Amazon is developing “picking” robots for warehouses.

Ironically, this comes at a time when Amazon says it will bump the minimum wage to $15 an hour for 250,000 employees. Amazon already uses robots to do some jobs in its warehouses. The picking robots in development will select items from shelves and put them into bins for packaging and shipping.

“The company is … developing robots that could one day handle the jobs of human pickers, according to three people with knowledge of the work,” The Information reported. “One of Amazon’s research projects involves a robot that can visually identify items coming down a conveyor belt, pick them up with a compressed-air vacuum gripper, and move them off the belt onto a table or shelf, said one of those people, who witnessed the robot in action.”

The robots aren’t ready yet to handle the workload, according to Amazon. “Human pickers are also much better at spotting problems such as a leaking jug of laundry detergent before it is shipped to a customer,” said Brad Porter, vice president and distinguished engineer at Amazon Robotics,  in an emailed statement.

“We regularly look at our operations and evaluate how we can bring technology to create new solutions for employees,” said Porter. “When it comes to using robotic manipulation for item picking, while we’re encouraged by the work in the research community, the simple fact is the current state of the art is not capable of handling the diversity of Amazon’s product selection.”

He added, “We need advanced technology and automation to meet customer demand—it’s just that simple.”

Photo: Anita Sanikop | Moguldom

 

Amazon insists that picking robots will not erode employment categories. It already has tens of thousands of robots inside its fulfillment centers, mostly motorized dollies that lift and shuttle shelves of goods to stations where humans pick items off them. The company says those robots have helped human workers be more efficient, rather than be replaced.

Amazon said it has hired more than 300,000 employees around the world since it started using robotics in fulfillment centers six years ago, and the company plans to continue growing its workforce and expanding automation in the future. Amazon has more than 185 fulfillment centers worldwide, and more than 25 of them, or about 14 percent, have robots in them, the Information reported.

“We regularly look at our operations and evaluate how we can bring technology to create new solutions for employees,” Porter told The Information.

The company seems to want the public to get used to the idea of robot workers.

“Amazon has previously sought to encourage innovation in picking robots with an annual contest, in which participants would compete to develop robots that could perform tasks such as grasping items and placing them on shelves.

Amazon awarded $270,000 in prizes to winners of its 2017 robotics challenge. Most contestants came from academia, as opposed to startups, the Information reported.