You can also listen to and view the information along with the footage in the video report attached to this article.
It has been ten years since the largest online retailer in the world invested significantly in the robotization of its logistics centers for the first time. Amazon bought the robotics company Kiva for $775 million in March 2012. Today, over 520,000 robotic assistants work in the e-commerce giant’s warehouses.
Across warehouses, sorting centers and its hub airports, the e-shop has over ten different types of robotic systems. Its people usually work next to them and have their workplaces safely separated, or they directly serve them. It is said that Amazon never wanted to replace its employees, after all, the number of jobs worldwide has increased by more than a million, so earlier fears about robots taking jobs have fallen away.
Amazon says it wants to maintain harmony between humans and machines. And apparently he still sticks to this vision. It was one of the central topics of the second year of his technology conference.
Four new robots. Is the company really not going to replace people?
A week ago, at the re:MARS 2022 event in Las Vegas, Amazon presented, among other things, its own the first completely autonomous a mobile robot that can move large and heavy carts, and at the same time safely navigate them and drive among employees – unlike other machines separated from people, for example by cages.
The e-commerce giant did not provide any exact technical details. But the so-called Proteus is said to have “advanced perception, navigation and safety technology.” The revealed video, which is muted in its original version, then shows the robot sending a green beam of light in front of it and stopping as soon as it encounters an obstacle, including a human .
The next introduced Cardinal robot is already a classic robotic arm in a cage. Picks up packages, reads their labels and places them in the designated cart for the next shipment. Computer vision and artificial intelligence enable it to sort correctly. The company is currently testing a prototype capable of carrying 50 kilograms, and wants to put it into full operation in distribution centers by next year.
The second robotic arm, in turn, should help employees pick up boxes from mobile shelves, which are often in places at different distances and heights. So that they do not have to bend down or use a ladder, an arm with the same equipment should locate the given shelf behind him, take the product box from it, hand it to the worker and then return it empty.
Within two years, the company will be without people
The latest innovation is a system that also uses computer vision and machine learning to recognize a package passing through its camera without stopping. It scans barcodes at a speed of 120 frames per second. To do this, employees today use hand-held scanners, which could disappear in the future. Even here, Amazon didn’t say more details. It should be similar to the technology used in its cashless stores.
In a statement, the company claims that it certainly does not plan to fully robotize the warehouses. Machines of a similar type are supposed to do work that is perhaps dangerous for people. A leaked internal Amazon memo cited by the server Vox.com, however, somewhat suggests the opposite possibility.
The leading online retailer could run out of people suitable for recruitment in its American warehouses by 2024. That is, if he plans the same rate of growth as before and does not want to change the amount of salary, the length of shifts or even hire his older employees.
Formation of unions, overpaying of competitors, monitoring of performance and injuries
In New York, for example, Amazon pays $18 an hour, more than double the minimum wage. This also initially discouraged many people from forming company unions. Rival Walmart, however, is already paying $25, and so this April, for the first time in Amazon’s history, a union movement was formed after all.
However, the establishment was mainly motivated by strict working conditions. In addition to high productivity quotas, people in warehouses are said to be constantly monitored and their performance measured. Which often leads to injuries. As a solution to the shortage of workers, the leaked report mentions increasing the number of hours worked per week by another tenth, which would allow the company to avoid hiring 118,000 people.
Amazon has to balance automation
According to a leaked report, the company’s management set a “conservative” goal last year to increase warehouse productivity by a quarter by the end of 2024, exclusively with the help of automation. Which is said to delay the crisis again only a little bit. At the same time, the second largest employer in the USA has already made it known that replacing employees with robots is only a delusion and would lead to its end.
Another possible, partial solution is a wage increase. Amazon calculated that every additional dollar an hour would increase its hiring pool by seven percent. At the same time, only one and a half dollars would delay the crisis by three years.
The giant will probably have to balance a lot between these solutions. Raising salaries would mean taking money elsewhere. With too much automation, he would then risk the wrath of critics from the unions and the public, and he would have to compromise on performance monitoring and productivity quotas when recruiting former and old employees. However, medical examinations no longer focus on marijuana when testing for drugs.
An assistant with the voice of a deceased grandmother, taxis and space
But Amazon knows how to focus the world’s attention elsewhere. The four-day conference probably attracted the most attention with the newly introduced ability of his home voice assistant. The so-called Alexa can speak with the help of artificial intelligence in the voice of a deceased person. He learns it from just one minute of audio recording. The question remains the ethics of such technology.
But there was, for example, the announcement of the progress of the robot taxi developed by the company ZOOX. This was bought by the e-commerce giant for a billion dollars in 2020, and the vehicle is new allegedly tested successfully in harsh traffic without any supervision. Partner company Blue Origin also used the event to show off its private space station Orbital Reef again. Its founder, the former head of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, wants to use it, like his other competitors, to replace the aging ISS in orbit.
After all, the name of the re:MARS conference is an acronym for four concepts – Machine Learning, Automation, Robotics and Space. Which, according to Amazon, are four phenomena that people will have to master in order to really get to the Red Planet.
British millionaire and founder of Gravity Industries, Richard Browning, who is trying to extend his jetpack or “Iron Man suit” to critical infrastructure components – from rescuers to police officers to soldiers – also spoke at the event. How the editors also wrote SZ Tech, his invention should already be included in their equipment for sharp missions by mountain rescuers in England this summer.
Humans can become partly machines
It was previously published in the technology section of the Seznam Zprávy server article i o robotech, who could also replace workers on construction sites, also in the Czech Republic. Two well-known construction companies have been developing them in the country for almost 10 years. They will pass off the machines as a team of masons and they would work not only faster, but also cheaper. It will probably become clear as early as next year which will be the first to put the robotic builder into operation.
As for warehouse robots, your helper who moves 13 packages per minuteBoston Dynamics, famous for its robotic dog Spot, also presented last year.
But the new industrial revolution referred to as “4.0” does not always mean only machines in people’s places. For example, Ford and General Motors have been testing for a long time so-called exoskeletonsi.e. robotic suits that cover and protect their user as an outer skeleton, while increasing their strength and stamina.