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Amazon Uses Robots To Speed Up Human 'Pickers' In Fulfillment Centers 184

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the man-is-obsolete dept.
cagraham writes "The WSJ, combing through Amazon's Q3 earnings report, found that the company is currently using 1,400 robots across three of their fulfillment centers. The machines are made by Kiva Systems (a company acquired by Amazon last year), and help to warehouses more efficient by bringing the product shelves to the workers. The workers then select the right item from the shelf, box it, and place it on the conveyor line, while another shelf is brought. The management software that runs the robots can speed or slow down item pacing, reroute valuable orders to more experienced workers, and redistribute workloads to prevent backlogs."
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Amazon Uses Robots To Speed Up Human 'Pickers' In Fulfillment Centers

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  • by GoodNewsJimDotCom (2244874) on Tuesday December 10, 2013 @01:57AM (#45647947)
    As much as I love my dad and his cool job of truck driving, the self driving car might impact that line of work. Self driving semis won't be quick to hit the road until after the civilian vehicles are out. I think the public will have a bit of fear for the big ol' trucks running under the control of T2000. And to more practical ends, the way you drive a semi is different than a regular car, so the software will need to be more advanced. In the short run(5-10 years after release of self driving cars) though delivery vans will be used quite effectively.

    I think if the self driving car becomes popular, there will be a certain size van that will become popular. It will be big enough to hold cargo, but small enough to be able to handle with the self driving car software. While it would not be as cost efficient for larger cargo loads, it would be cheaper for loads in its size because not having to pay for a driver is big time. I think grocery stores, Walmart, and even local distributors could use these. The nice thing about this is that any time logistics sees a boon like this, the prices consumers pay goes down even more. Lower prices for food lets people save more money to invest in other things or donate and society's advancement accelerates. So we should look forward to the self driving car.

    To a certain degree, it is sad for someone to lose their job to a robot. But it is just as sad to lose your job to out sourcing of cheaper labor. The key today is you need to be on your toes, always educating yourself. The Internet gives you the ability to keep progressing in education past what you received in secondary education. And if you're a kid who hasn't graduated high school, I envy you because I wanted to take college level courses when I was in high school. Back in the early 90s, you just didn't have a way to educate yourself past what your teachers fed you outside of teaching yourself coding or something at home with limited materials. I mean you could sit down and just read through the encyclopedias as I'm sure many Slashdotters have done. But today, with the Internet, you can get a solid education if you're an active learner. If you need to be spoon fed, the Internet isn't quite there, but it is getting there.

    I'm just saying there is no excuse to not be learning as your chief pass time now. You might think learning about other disciplines won't help you in your workplace. But you never know what can click in your head as a business idea when you study cross discipline. Also if you deliberately make it one of your hobbies to learn new stuff on the Internet, you might eventually have enough knowledge to be a tradesman in other fields.

    Anyway, I think the days of the truck driver might be numbered. There is no net loss for society though. It will be a net gain. If you want to compete in the new economy, you want to always be learning especially if you're not currently employed. And what you can do with your mind will have a bigger impact than what people with a great mind could do back in the day.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 10, 2013 @04:09AM (#45648333)

    Self driving semis won't be quick to hit the road until after the civilian vehicles are out.... the way you drive a semi is different than a regular car, so the software will need to be more advanced

    Citation, please. The gearing is different, the stopping distance is different, the length of the vehicle (think lane changes) is different, the turning radius is different... but these are all *variables*, not fundamental changes to the software. The biggest difference I can think of is that trucks would need additional waypoints programmed in so they'll stop at weigh stations.

    On the other hand, truck drivers represent a significant cost in both money *and time*. If a truck driver costs a company $50k/year but a truck-driving computer system (hardware+software) costs $100k, the computer should pay for itself in under a year. There are limits on how many hours per day or week a person can drive a truck, to ensure they get enough sleep so they can drive safely, but the same doesn't need to be true about self-driving trucks. So a computer driving a truck can move a single load of goods cross-country faster, and can move *more* loads in a month or year.

    To a certain degree, it is sad for someone to lose their job to a robot. But it is just as sad to lose your job to out sourcing of cheaper labor. The key today is you need to be on your toes, always educating yourself.

    No. Well, yes, that's the key in this current economy. But the promise of robotics isn't supposed to be that only the best and smartest survive, but that the robotics eliminates work for *everyone*. Wages are supposed to keep pace as hours fall. If robots can automate half your work, the idea is that we're supposed to be paid twice as much per hour as our workload drops in half. Somewhere along the line that got distorted when profit became the driving factor, and half (or more) of the workers got laid off because robots/automation could do their work. So you're right, but you're not supposed to be. Asimov, Heinlein, et al would be furious today.

    I'm just saying there is no excuse to not be learning as your chief pass time now.

    Yep, that's supposed to be the goal, enabled by the robots that take away all the drudgery. Instead of spending all your energy working 40 hours/week, you're supposed to be working 20 hours with plenty of mental energy still in the tank so you can learn. But again, that ideal has been distorted, so most people are doing 45-60 hours worth of work and just don't have the energy left to enrich themselves. Even if they do, the middle class, where this *should* be happening, is disappearing, and if you're worried about money you start losing the ability to think effectively about your future.

    Anyway, I think the days of the truck driver might be numbered. There is no net loss for society though. It will be a net gain.

    No, it won't be a net gain. Driving truck is a (difficult, lots-of-time-away-from-your-family) ticket to the middle class for blue-collar workers. As factory jobs continue to move overseas and the real value of the minimum wage drops and drops and drops, fewer and fewer poor people can advance into the (shrinking) middle class. If you buy into the theory that the middle class is the driver of the economy (they are the people buying new cars and washing machines and houses, while the poor just try to make the rent and the rich buy an occasional painting or luxury automobile), then losing a pathway to the middle class *is* a net loss to society.

  • by tftp (111690) on Tuesday December 10, 2013 @04:37AM (#45648431) Homepage

    One problem is that there is no smooth transition from "here" to "there." More and more people are losing their service jobs. Manufacturing jobs, outside of restaurants, are gone already. Fast food restaurants will soon switch to robots to make sandwiches, and every customer will be happy about that. A sandwich place will be open 24/7, will be assembling sandwiches repeatably and accurately, with ingredients that you can infinitely specify, with prices that track what exactly, and how much, you consume, and with guarantee that your sandwich was never touched by dirty hands.

    Another problem is that you cannot "free people up to not have to work." Humans cannot sit idly. They go crazy. Just see what's happening in ghettos, where inhabitants have too much free time and too little to do. Futurists assured us that in the future people will be working one hour per week, and the rest will be spent on art, books, travel, and other creative and pleasing activities. But nothing of the sort is happening in ghettos. People there could spend years learning the arts. Unfortunately, the only art they are interested in is the "knock-out game" violence. They don't read; they don't even speak the same language as the rest of the country does. In essence, they self-segregate. Perhaps a sociologist could say that this is a natural development, formation of tribes. But this is not a welcome development.

    You could see this process in works of Vassily Golovachev (don't know if any are translated.) He started a couple decades ago with a vision of a bright future, Star Trek style, where people cooperate and achieve great heights together. But around the edge of the century he developed lots of pessimism in his futuristic vision. It became so bad that the dividing line is even visible within one trilogy (The Black Man.) What would people do, young and old, if they know that they do not matter, they are not needed, and nothing that they do has any importance? The escape into arts and culture is not for everyone. The younger people would band up together to disprove that theory - usually by forming gangs and assaulting other people for fun, just to show them who is the boss. The older people will gain control over the planet. None of that would be done to gain material wealth. It will be done only to enjoy strength and power over others, since this is not only the most powerful motive of all human activity, but also the one that no robot and no automated factory can deliver. (Unless, of course, that factory makes robot soldiers.) The social competition will continue, just on another game board, and with another figures. But the end result is always the same: domination over others. Not everyone is afflicted with this malady, but enough are.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 10, 2013 @06:08AM (#45648727)

    Big truck companies like Volvo are already putting the radar and computer vision systems from their high-end cars into trucks. The trucks cost more anyway, meaning it's a smaller proportion of the price tag, the truck operator doesn't have as much confidence in human drivers as the amateur car owner (because they get to see the real statistics of how many accidents take a truck off the road and require an insurance claim every year) and the truck cab is a big place with a lot of room for gadgets like this.

    Today a brand new top-of-the-line Volvo truck, of the sort you'd buy for a long distance haulage company that cares about its drivers - will auto-stop from highway speeds when it detects an obstacle and the driver doesn't react to a warning sound. If the driver does react (because they were merely distracted and not asleep) it has everything set up to help them complete an emergency manoeuvre, e.g. sharp lane change without toppling or jack-knifing, crash braking.

    Another thing long distance hauliers might be interested in is systems in which amateur drivers on a highway become "ducklings", forming an automatic convoy behind a large truck with a professional driver without any further intervention by their drivers. The truck advertises "I'm willing to be mother duck" and anybody with a compatible car can turn the system on and know they'll arrive safely at their chosen exit. That's been demo'd on public highways but isn't yet an option you can buy in the showroom. If they can get the legalities sorted out this could be a bonus for everyone - no-one likes long straight highway journeys but at least the guy at the front is getting paid to take proper rest breaks.

"From there to here, from here to there, funny things are everywhere." -- Dr. Seuss

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