In its preparation for the upcoming gift-giving holidays, Amazon deployed a robot army to help it serve its customers quicker. These innovative helpers perform warehouse duties and add another level of productivity and efficiency to Amazon’s retail operations.
The drones are wheeled, bright orange, and built low to the ground. Each carries several shelves of product stacked on top of it. It is their duty to move these shelves to the warehouse employees known as “pickers.”
As orders come in, the tiny automated workers move their shelves to the assigned picker. Normally, a picker will have about 20 stocked shelves appear in front of them at the same time. Using information from the order, the picker removes the requested items from the shelves, scans them, and drops them into bins. The bins move to the shipping department on a conveyor belt where they are boxed, labeled and shipped away on trucks.
Several warehouses contain the easily noticed robots, including ones located in Arizona, Kentucky, California and Texas. The company deployed the drones in other states too but a full list of those warehouses was not provided. A 1.2-million-square-foot warehouse in Tracy, California, located about 60 miles from San Francisco, replaced four floors of fixed shelves with the robots.
The retailer celebrates the service of this technology as a great time saver as the company prepares for this holiday season. Under the old system, workers had to walk several miles a day, some days up to 20 miles total, to find products and arrange for their movement to the shipping department. Now, the pickers just need to stay in one place and wait for the product to come to them.
Eliminating the need for employees to walk to product, coupled with the speed of the robots, pickers can scan three times as many products as they did under the old system, meaning items are ready and prepared for shipment to customers quicker. Robots also travel fast. Using bar codes on the warehouse floor for navigation, they find the best route to the picker and limit their travel to about 12 miles a day. To support their speed, warehouses include “human exclusion zones” so workers do not risk being run over by the super-efficient machines.
The robots need fewer breaks than their human counterparts too. Allow them five-minute breaks to recharge their batteries and they are good to go.
While similar logistics systems are being developed by other companies, these short orange service robots are exclusive to Amazon. The company acquired the robots from Kiva Systems, a company it purchased in 2012 for $775 million. Robots designed and manufactured by Kiva Systems are no longer available to other companies.
The continued service of the robots to Amazon throughout the holidays and beyond seems to be guaranteed. In a presentation to investors, Jeff Bezos, chief executive, announced that he plans to install 10,000 of these robots by the end of this year. This is a significant increase from the 1,400 he started with in May 2014, making the large online retailer one of the most automated in the country this holiday season.
By Jocelyn Mackie
Photo by thisisbossi – Flickr License