The holiday season is a time for packing and delivering. Just ask Santa and his army of elves. But who’s really packing your presents?
If they come from an Amazon warehouse, chances are a combination of robots and workers, that’s who. And with more than a trillion boxes being shipped globally, there’s a demand for warehouse workers and robots to fill shipping-related tasks.
Amazon, with the purchase of Kiva Systems back in 2012, which became Amazon Robotics, has already started building a robot army. Recode reports that currently “Amazon has more than 200,000 mobile robots working inside its warehouse network, alongside hundreds of thousands of human workers. This robot army has helped the company fulfill its ever-increasing promises of speedy deliveries to Amazon Prime customers.”
And that robot army is going to increase substantially. Boston Dynamics has been working on a robot named “Handle” that could potentially fill that need. According to Barron’s, Marc Raibert, founder and CEO of Boston Dynamics, who was speaking on stage at the WSJ CEO Council in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday. Raibert said they’re hoping to launch it in the next 18 months.
Raibert also mentions that as more than one trillion boxes are shipped globally, there is a vast market for robots that can handle complex warehouse logistics and shipping tasks. And Handle has been designed specifically to move boxes. Its reach extends to nine feet, it can lift up to 33 pounds and both load and unload trucks and pallets at a rate of 360 boxes an hour. The company calls Handle a “mobile manipulation robot designed for logistics”.
Will robots like Handle eventually replace all of Amazon’s human warehouse workers? “Automation is in no way replacing jobs,” said Beth Galetti, senior vice president of human resources at Amazon, reports Barron’s from a follow-up session at The Wall Street Journal’s conference last week. Galetti suggests workers learn how to work in partnership with automation.