Print 39 comment(s) - last by Solandri.. on Dec 11 at 5:02 AM

These robots can be used to deliver shelves stocked with merchandise to warehouse workers within fulfillment centers

Robots are a hot topic lately with Amazon announcing new plans for delivery drones and Google's rollout of a new robotics division. But Amazon has revealed even more robot minions that can speed up delivery times.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Amazon has big plans for some small robots it acquired back in March 2012. These robots can be used to deliver shelves stocked with merchandise to warehouse workers within fulfillment centers, rather than workers going to look for the items themselves. 

Amazon bought a company called Kiva Systems in March 2012 for $775 million, which is where these orange, bottom feeder-looking robots came from. Amazon said in its third quarter earnings report that it now has 1,400 Kiva robots in three of its warehouses.

Kiva Systems' robots [SOURCE: Bloomberg News]

Shawn Milne, a Janney Capital Markets analyst, said these robots could save Amazon a lot of money. In fact, the robots could take 20-40 percent off the typical $3.50 to $3.75 cost of fulfilling an average order. 

He added that a "broad" rollout of Kiva robots could save Amazon $458 million to $916 million annually in the area of warehouse efficiencies.

Last week, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said he wanted to use unmanned "Prime Air" drones for small package delivery. The speedy delivery system would pick up packages up to five pounds in weight and deliver them directly to customers' homes or businesses in about thirty minutes. 

Only days later, Andy Rubin -- the Google executive responsible for the Android operating system -- said he plans to develop real humanoid robots that will one day perform functions in the areas of manufacturing and retail. 

Source: The Wall Street Journal

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By Motoman on 12/10/2013 11:52:58 AM , Rating: 1
...I don't get this.

I'm all for automating basic picking orders. But to say that a robot dragging a whole shelf (and then presumably having to take the shelf back to where it was) to a worker is somehow faster than the worker simply walking to the shelf to pick it himself?

I can't imagine how you could lay out an automate a warehouse in any such fashion where that would work out. Especially not at the volume of orders that Amazon has to fill.

I have to believe it would be vastly better to have a semi-autonomous bot that navigates to each shelf and picks orders like a human does, and then delivers each complete order to a verification & packing area.

RE: Ummm...
By ClownPuncher on 12/10/2013 12:11:43 PM , Rating: 3
The worker isn't just going to be sitting there, waiting for the robot to show up... Do you know anything about Amazon?

RE: Ummm...
By Motoman on 12/10/2013 12:20:21 PM , Rating: 2
These robots can be used to deliver shelves stocked with merchandise to warehouse workers within fulfillment centers, rather than workers going to look for the items themselves.

This is what I know about this robot thing.

Do I know anything about Amazon? Probably about as much as anyone else who is just a customer of the company, and doesn't work there.

I have, however, worked in a warehouse - where I had to personally fulfill customer purchases.

Hence my original comment.

RE: Ummm...
By ClownPuncher on 12/10/2013 12:27:45 PM , Rating: 3
Right, but what I'm saying is that the humans will already be working on fulfillment - the robot deliveries will be staged so as not to have downtime.

My comment about Amazon was due to Amazon being very well known for having incredibly efficient warehouse practices.

RE: Ummm...
By Mitch101 on 12/10/2013 12:54:00 PM , Rating: 3
I watched the show about the robot workers and humans do collect the items from the shelves. The shelf shows up beeps they pull the item scan it and the robot takes the shelves away while the new one is pretty much there.

Its all about efficiency and this takes out the physical exhaustion of someone who would have to walk the floor carrying a box or pushing a cart. Robots carrying a shelf would be faster than people on two legs. This is more efficient and more humanitarian than the way Amazon currently does things with humans walking the floor.

RE: Ummm...
By ClownPuncher on 12/10/2013 1:03:19 PM , Rating: 2
Walking isn't bad for you. There is nothing inhumane about having to walk a warehouse... when you work in a warehouse.

RE: Ummm...
By tng on 12/10/2013 5:09:16 PM , Rating: 2
We recently had a Amazon warehouse put in where I live. A couple of people that I know work there. They both keep track of how much they walk and while at the warehouse, it is never less than 15 miles a day. That does not include what they do outside of the building...

I typically try to do a minimum of 8-9 miles per day, but 15 every day? That is a busy and tiring week.

RE: Ummm...
By Monkey's Uncle on 12/10/2013 7:24:18 PM , Rating: 3
It is their job. They are being paid to do it. And I bet if they quit, there will be 10 people lined up to take their place.

I bet Amazon's primary goal in introducing these robots is to reduce their human workforce. After all you only have to pay for the robot itself, the power it uses and any parts it wears out. Dirt cheap compared to paying humans to do the same amount of work and there is no sick time, maternity leave or vacations to deal with. It is a corporate wet dream.

Meanwhile as corporations like this are dumping their human workforce in favor of these high-tech toys, who will be left to actually buy their products? They have put their potential customers out of work.

RE: Ummm...
By Fujikoma on 12/10/2013 8:05:30 PM , Rating: 2
It's more like 20 miles in a ten hour shift.
Sure there are 10 people lined up... and 9.9 of them can't hack it after the first few weeks (laziness, just worn out or realizing that $11/hr isn't worth it). The problem Amazon has, is that it wears its workforce out by having them do excessively repetitive jobs and not rotating people among those jobs. Pick up 35-50 pound totes for a ten hour day at a rate of 6 a minute from a pallet placed on the floor... either you screw up your back OR your leg muscles get super tight.
Amazon isn't going to pay for the space to properly space product so that a robot can retrieve it from a shelf. You also run into the problem of who/what is going to properly place the items on that shelf so a robot can retrieve it. That problem will become compounded if if it's pulling the shelf location, since multiple items in varying quantities (random of course) are in them. That robot isn't going to retrieve the items as fast as a person can (not for a long time).
I will give Amazon kudos for having a workforce that eventually gets into shape. I know a lot of people who've lost a lot of body fat from working there.

RE: Ummm...
By Motoman on 12/10/2013 1:26:53 PM , Rating: 1
Uh-huh. And with the vast volumes that an Amazon warehouse has to handle...with many items on each pick that have to individually be picked from different shelves?

The very thought of trying to get the robots to move all the shelves around to various human pickers trying to fulfill an Amazon-level of volume seems absolutely asinine. I see no way it can scale at all without becoming a shelfpocalypse.

I'll believe it when I see it.

RE: Ummm...
By Reflex on 12/10/2013 1:51:34 PM , Rating: 3
I saw a presentation on this. It already is in action and the techniques used are amazing. Inventory is managed like RAM on a PC, including specific placement and item distribution. Shelves are always in motion and pickers are kept constantly active with the item they want always right within arm's reach.

Kiva serves a lot more than just Amazon, despite the acquisition. Several large retailers use them to manage their warehouses as well.

RE: Ummm...
By Solandri on 12/11/2013 5:02:24 AM , Rating: 3
Yeah, I think Motoman is thinking of this in terms of operational efficiency - i.e. least distance traveled, or least work done.

The primary consideration here is going to be cost efficiency. Robots cost a lot less than humans. So the most cost-efficient methodology will have the robots doing a lot of the busywork, while the humans do less busywork (they do stuff the robots are bad at, like recognizing the ordered product and picking it out). If moving the shelves causes 10x as much work, and the robots are 20x cheaper than people, then you can replace a single human walking through the warehouse with 10 robots and still come out at half the cost.

RE: Ummm...
By Krotchrot on 12/10/2013 2:55:44 PM , Rating: 3
RE: Ummm...
By Motoman on 12/10/2013 3:39:51 PM , Rating: 1
I did. It looked pretty much exactly as I imagined it. And having seen it, I feel even better about the assertion that it can't work with the volume of transactions that Amazon processes.

Here's some key observations from the video:

1. They show a small workforce processing a moderate rate of picks/packs, with few moving shelves and indeed shelves queuing up behind individual humans, waiting for the human to get to them. This is problematic on an Amazon scale, because there won't be *few* shelves in motion...they'll *all* be in motion, all the time. And they can't afford to get queued up behind a human for one pick, because 3 or 4 or 10 other humans need to make a pick from that same shelf. What you see in this video as a leisurely, low-traffic work process isn't at all an accurate reflection of what likely would have to happen in an Amazon warehouse.

RE: Ummm...
By Motoman on 12/10/2013 3:43:14 PM , Rating: 2
...something not working right with posting. Have a couple more points. Please hold.

RE: Ummm...
By Motoman on 12/10/2013 3:53:30 PM , Rating: 2
F%cking DT - fix your sh1t.

Super-short version that leaves out important reasoning, just because DT sucks:

2. Average item per pick for Zappos - 1.5. Half are for one item, half are for 2. Amazon won't be that way. Vastly more shelf traffic, human wait times. Have to order shelves to a given human in a row for a given pick, otherwise human has to manage multiple open picks and massive introduction of human error.

RE: Ummm...
By Motoman on 12/10/2013 3:53:48 PM , Rating: 2
3. There was a shot of the general storage area that displayed this magnificent array of robotic shelves all pack with utter neatness and orderliness, like sardines in a can, with essentially no space between them. The Zappos guy crows about how little space they need for the storage this way. Well...that's great, and maybe you can get away with that with a low transaction rate and a low item-count rate. I don't see that working at Amazon either...I would envision nearly all of those shelves having to be in near-constant motion to try to fulfill orders. Forget the orderliness and compactness...I can easily see it devolving into the shelfpocalypse in a hurry.

On the plus side, one of the women working there is kinda hot.

RE: Ummm...
By Reflex on 12/10/2013 4:02:46 PM , Rating: 1
I'm not sure what to tell you. It is used. Extensively. By Amazon and others. And productivity is significantly higher for a lower cost than it is at the older manual warehouses.

Also, Zappos is Amazon. And their order rate is very very high.

RE: Ummm...
By Motoman on 12/10/2013 4:08:30 PM , Rating: 2
See my point #2. Unless you can magically make each and every shelf have all of the multiple items that each individual order is going to need, the much-higher rate of transactions at Amazon (don't believe for a second your assertion that Zappos has a comparable transaction rate) will make this system hit a traffic jam.

Zappos has a very simple model (half the orders for 1 item...other half for 2) and a more modest rate of transaction. That's worlds away from what the reality is likely to be for Amazon proper.

Again...I'll believe it when I see it. At Amazon.

RE: Ummm...
By ebakke on 12/10/2013 4:46:35 PM , Rating: 2
So split your inventory of popular items among many shelves.

You could also fairly easily do two orders at at time, without introducing a ton of error. Say you had two stations, and you stand in the middle. The shelves would stop at the station for the order in which the product belongs. Keeps the two orders separate, and allows the computers to schedule order fulfillment so that workers are still busy while large/complex orders are fulfilled.

Or have the employee put the right product in the box and put the box on another robot. The robot knows if a) it's done, and needs to go to shipping or b) has another product and delivers the box back to another worker with the shelf containing the next item.

There are many ways to solve this problem. You say you're skeptical. Fair enough.Prepare to have your mind blown. :)

RE: Ummm...
By Fujikoma on 12/10/2013 8:12:50 PM , Rating: 2
I doubt that this is faster than a person picking over 100 items an hour.

RE: Ummm...
By Mitch101 on 12/10/13, Rating: 0
RE: Ummm...
By ClownPuncher on 12/10/2013 12:19:42 PM , Rating: 2
Lawsuits for what? It's a tough job and it isn't a secret. I assume employment is at-will in the UK?

RE: Ummm...
By Motoman on 12/10/2013 12:22:13 PM , Rating: 2
Exactly. There are lots of jobs that require lots of walking and/or other physical exertion. Now...if Amazon is actually legally mistreating their employees somehow, then there's a case to be made. But simply choosing to work in a physically-demanding job and then complaining that your job is physically demanding is stupid.

RE: Ummm...
By Mitch101 on 12/10/2013 12:46:49 PM , Rating: 2
Amazon staff have previously revealed how they have been tracked by GPS tags inside the company’s eight UK warehouses and even had toilet breaks timed - claims the firm has denied.

Employment experts have given warnings over workers' conditions

One employee at the warehouse - otherwise known as a ‘fulfilment centre’ - in Rugeley, Staffordshire, likened conditions to a ‘slave camp’.

Experts, including Professor Michael Marmot, of University College London, have questioned if conditions inside the firm’s giant warehouses could increase workers’ risk of mental or physical illness.

Targets: Adam Littler, a 23-year-old graduate, told BBC1's Panorama how he worked 10-and-a-half hour night shifts and was given an order every 33 seconds

The firm imposed a ‘three strikes and release’ discipline system to sack workers who did not meet targets.

Amazon has also come under pressure for its use of controversial ‘zero-hours’ contracts and for its tax avoidance practices.

RE: Ummm...
By ClownPuncher on 12/10/2013 1:02:13 PM , Rating: 2
Sometimes you have to work hard. Especially when you go apply to a job where you know you have to work hard. This is something England needs to remember.

RE: Ummm...
By Reclaimer77 on 12/10/2013 1:05:07 PM , Rating: 2
They're doing all that so my prices are kept low. Hence, I could care less :)

Besides, I bet those workers will outlive all of us. Walking 11 miles a day (absurdly exaggerated) you would have the cardio and heart-health of an athlete!

I worked at a warehouse too when I was younger. It sucked, I even have a bad back from it. Know what I did? This amazing new concept called "got a better job".

RE: Ummm...
By kattanna on 12/10/2013 1:25:45 PM , Rating: 2
Adam Littler, a 23-year-old graduate , told BBC1's Panorama how he worked 10-and-a-half hour night shifts and was given an order every 33 seconds

I love how people complain about doing the job they got hired for.

I too have had crappy assembly line like jobs when I could get nothing else.. and when I found better, i moved on. I didnt run to the internet to whine about it.. though it didnt exist back then, but thats not the point

and hows that degree working out for you??

RE: Ummm...
By Motoman on 12/10/2013 1:57:53 PM , Rating: 2
and hows that degree working out for you??

Probably has a degree in Union Management.

RE: Ummm...
By PorreKaj on 12/11/2013 12:45:56 AM , Rating: 2
'Increase Efficiency'
By coburn_c on 12/10/2013 11:30:51 AM , Rating: 2
In fact, the robots could take 20-40 percent off the typical $3.50 to $3.75 cost of fulfilling an average order.

Which translates to, 'allow us to lay off 20-40% of our order full-fillers.

The drones are takin'-our-jobs.

RE: 'Increase Efficiency'
By DT_Reader on 12/10/2013 11:41:52 AM , Rating: 3
Can you imagine what your cell phone bill would be if Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile had human operators manually switching your calls from cell tower to cell tower? I don't know when the last AT&T operator hung up her headset, but I do know that AT&T alone employs more people today than the number of operators they had at their peak. Automation is a good thing.

RE: 'Increase Efficiency'
By OutOfTouch on 12/10/2013 12:15:08 PM , Rating: 2
Everyone back to the pile!

RE: 'Increase Efficiency'
By retrospooty on 12/10/2013 12:59:14 PM , Rating: 2
"The drones are takin'-our-jobs"

I am sure the pissbucket boys of the 1800's felt the same when indoor plumbing became big, but progress happens and its a good thing.

RE: 'Increase Efficiency'
By Morridin19 on 12/10/2013 1:56:40 PM , Rating: 2
Everyone likes to neglect the number of jobs created from the Engineering, Manufacturing, and Service of automation.

All this is doing is reducing the number of undesireable job positions and creating other potentially more desirable jobs that have potential for higher pay, and better technical training.

Besides the fact that people have no reason to complain about a job they have. If you have a problem with it, go get another job.

If your english degree doesn't get you your dream job, feel free to either blame yourself for being gullible or blame the education system for creating too much supply of low demand degree's. Either way stop feeling so privileged and work towards getting something better.

Surprised this already isn't in place
By Homerboy on 12/10/2013 1:20:01 PM , Rating: 2
I guess I more or less assumed that drones were already doing the picking for the humans in most cases. Why would you have people doing a task that can be done more quickly and efficiently than a robot/computer -- that's why we invented these things in the first place is it not?

Go watch how LEGO's warehouse(s) work. All drones and impeccably efficient. (and awesome).

Amazon implementing this seems like they are late to the game to me.

By kattanna on 12/10/2013 1:30:09 PM , Rating: 2
agreed. to me as well it is surprising to hear it isnt already in place. With a fully automated warehouse you save energy on lighting/heating/cooling

poor delivery
By torskman on 12/10/2013 8:29:44 PM , Rating: 2
I'd be happy if they ever delivered my order from two weeks ago.

I, for one,
By DT_Reader on 12/10/13, Rating: 0
"People Don't Respect Confidentiality in This Industry" -- Sony Computer Entertainment of America President and CEO Jack Tretton
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