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Businesses Robotics

How Amazon's Robots Move Everything Around 177

dkatana writes: Amazon's drones have a long way to become reality, but the real magic of the Internet of Things (IoT) is already happening at Amazon's vast fulfillment warehouses in the US. Amazon runs a fleet of thousands of small robots moving storage pods around so orders can be fulfilled in record time. They are so efficient that they can move an entire warehouse and have ready to operate again during the weekend. All together the small robots have traveled over 93 million miles — almost the distance from Earth to the Sun.
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How Amazon's Robots Move Everything Around

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  • In the future, there will be robots.

    • I read the article, and failed to see how this had anything to do with IoT, other than the fact that the speaker was at an IoT conference. Maybe it's because orders placed on the internet are eventually routed to a command and control system that order these robots around? Or perhaps because IoT is a hot buzzword, and that robots just aren't cool enough by themselves?

      Also, this line was hilarious:

      To encourage workers to see robots as companions, each unit is given a different name by an Amazon employee, and the name is entered into the system, so workstation workers can refer to them by name instead of a serial number.

      And yet, when they show a picture of a robot, right on the front is a big number "12828", not the name it was

      • I read the article, and failed to see how this had anything to do with IoT, other than the fact that the speaker was at an IoT conference.

        Robots are Things. You reading this On the Internet. = IOT

      • by Livius ( 318358 )

        Internet-enabled robots were the intended audience of the article.

      • "I read the article, and failed to see how this had anything to do with IoT"

        The robots, of course, are things, right?
        But how the robots know their position within the warehouse? How they know they are picking the right package? Maybe because the robots, the shelves and the packages have microchips (i.e. RFID) that allows them to interact, both among themselves and the central provisioning systems?

  • by FlyHelicopters ( 1540845 ) on Monday September 28, 2015 @05:05PM (#50616175)

    The irony to this is that a lot of low skilled workers are currently demanding more money for their current jobs. Raises to the min wage of $15/hr and so on.

    http://www.businessinsider.com... [businessinsider.com]

    The company's robot can "slice toppings like tomatoes and pickles immediately before it places the slice onto your burger, giving you the freshest burger possible." The robot is "more consistent, more sanitary, and can produce ~360 hamburgers per hour." That's one burger every 10 seconds.

    One of these robots in a McDonald's could probably replace 4 or more employees. If McDonald's isn't testing these now, they're nuts.

    Momentum Machines cofounder Alexandros Vardakostas told Xconomy his "device isnâ(TM)t meant to make employees more efficient. Itâ(TM)s meant to completely obviate them." Indeed, marketing copy on the company's site reads that their automaton "does everything employees can do, except better."

    The same is true of the Amazon Warehouse robots, those jobs are history...

    Yes, yes, there will be new jobs building these robots, but do you believe that someone who used to flip burgers is now going to build robots? Do you think it will take just as many of them to build the robots?

    We are approaching a point where we no longer need all the people we have to do all the things that need to be done. This will be an interesting challenge for the 21st century, what do we do with all the people who are no longer required to make stuff?

    • It's not irony.

      Chinese noodle workers who make under $400 a year were replaced by robots.

      Think you can live in the 1st world for $400 a year?

      There is plenty of food, water, and resources for everyone.

      We share or things get ugly asthey have over and over and over in the past.

      Robot jobs are two to three orders of magnitude fewer than the industries they are replacing.

      We'll either go to a basic income, or a revolution, or a tax on robotic labor, etc. etc.

      You can have 30% of the population starving, homeless, a

      • by 0123456 ( 636235 )

        There is plenty of food, water, and resources for everyone.

        No, there's not.

        We share or things get ugly asthey have over and over and over in the past.

        Hint: things are going to get ugly.

        • Um. Yes there is.

          See I can do the same thing.

          Link it.

          We have a distribution problem. Not a raw resource problem.

          Everyone on earth could live better than u.s. citizens did in the 1950s. No one needs to starve. No one needs to be without shelter. No one needs to be without water. And really no one needs to be without entertainment or cheap intoxicants.

          That, friends, and family is all most people in the world has needed to be happy for most of time.

          The few rare birds with genius level talent could still

      • We share or things get ugly as they have over and over and over in the past.

        During the last century the worst ugliness was caused by the mandatory "sharing" that you propose as the solution.

        • by Livius ( 318358 )

          During the last century the worst ugliness was caused by the mandatory "sharing" that you propose as the solution.

          Unless he means a different kind of sharing.

        • "During the last century the worst ugliness was caused by the mandatory "sharing" that you propose as the solution."

          Uhhh... People living in Northern Europe probably will disagree.

      • by Livius ( 318358 )

        There is plenty of food, water, and resources for everyone.

        There's adequate food, water and resources. Not everyone is happy with that. (That may be a problem with their happiness, but the problem is still there.)

    • by Qzukk ( 229616 ) on Monday September 28, 2015 @05:12PM (#50616197) Journal

      We are approaching a point where we no longer need all the people we have to do all the things that need to be done. This will be an interesting challenge for the 21st century, what do we do with all the people who are no longer required to make stuff?

      The same thing we've always done: belittle and mock them for being unable to get a job. While we wait for that time to come, we'll do the same thing we've been doing: belittle and mock people for thinking that robots will ever replace people at their job.

    • We are approaching a point where we no longer need all the people we have to do all the things that need to be done. This will be an interesting challenge for the 21st century, what do we do with all the people who are no longer required to make stuff?

      The bigger issue is how do we get people to stop making MORE people that will not have a role in society to fill when they reach adulthood. We're automating the world for the benefit of mankind, but continue to breed like we're all still living off the family farm.

      • by 0123456 ( 636235 )

        The bigger issue is how do we get people to stop making MORE people that will not have a role in society to fill when they reach adulthood. We're automating the world for the benefit of mankind, but continue to breed like we're all still living off the family farm.

        The developed world has a declining native population. In a few generations, we won't have to worry about robots taking our jobs, because there won't be any humans left.

        Look at Japan, for example.

      • by Livius ( 318358 )

        Are economic ones the only roles that society has?

        • by 0123456 ( 636235 )

          Are economic ones the only roles that society has?

          For Marxists, yes. You're either a cog in the great social machine, or chaff to be tossed aside.

        • by Speck'sBacon ( 1042490 ) on Monday September 28, 2015 @06:19PM (#50616553)

          Are economic ones the only roles that society has?

          You may not think of it as such, but *everything* is an economic transaction or endeavor, since at its core, economics is the study of dealing with scarcity: of time, of resources, of personnel, etc.

      • The bigger issue is how do we get people to stop making MORE people that will not have a role in society to fill when they reach adulthood.

        An obvious solution is to provide unneeded people with a basic income in return for sterilization.

        We're automating the world for the benefit of mankind, but continue to breed like we're all still living off the family farm.

        Birth rates are declining everywhere, and the decline is strongly correlated with urbanization, reduced infant mortality, and rising living standards. We could accelerate the process by giving 3rd world women access to cheap, safe, and convenient contraceptives.

      • continue to breed like we're all still living off the family farm.

        The US is shrinking without massive immigration.

    • We are approaching a point where we no longer need all the people we have to do all the things that need to be done. This will be an interesting challenge for the 21st century, what do we do with all the people who are no longer required to make stuff?

      Interesting challenge?
      This challenge will overwhelm the American governments capacity to deliver social services, healthcare, policing, etc
      Unemployment and underemployment will only continue to rise as automation and robotics take jobs away, not just from unskilled, but also from highly skilled occupations. The numbers will grow every year. No amount of election year politicking about job creation will change any of this.

      What will be used to maintain control, deliver services, etc to a growing popu

    • This will be an interesting challenge for the 21st century, what do we do with all the people who are no longer required to make stuff?

      Same thing we do with them already. Management.

    • This will be an interesting challenge for the 21st century, what do we do with all the people who are no longer required to make stuff?

      It was also an interesting challenge for the 19th century, when steel plows, tractors, and reaping machines displaced all the people who were no longer required to grow stuff.

      • Sure, they moved to manufacturing. When those jobs went away everyone moved to service. At this point though we've run out of sectors of the economy, there isn't anywhere for everyone to move to.
      • by swb ( 14022 )

        The problem is we really don't have any growth in industrial employment and a lot of the automation is replacing work in the service sector. The 19th century saw gains in both industrial employment and service employment. We've cut one of those categories and automation aims to cut the other.

        So where do they go?

        I suppose one answer might be an increase in nominal agricultural employment through urban, grow-local subsistence agriculture.

      • It was also an interesting challenge for the 19th century, when steel plows, tractors, and reaping machines displaced all the people who were no longer required to grow stuff.

        Lots of people keep saying that sort of thing, but sooner or later we're going to reach the end game of it.

        Yes, machines now make our food, those people do other things. They went to work in factories making stuff, but that now is done by robots or overseas by virtual slave labor (which won't last, but robots will pickup that slack).

        Then they moved into tech and service businesses. But that has only so much room and will become automated at some point.

        Or do you believe that we'll always find something new

        • "Or do you believe that we'll always find something new for humans to do no matter how automated our world becomes?"

          Maybe yes, after all.

          Asimov (surely not the only one) envisioned the end result of that trend in the Solaria-style worlds (10.000 robots per human and very low human population density): you see, it seems countries tend to reduce their natality rates as they progress social and economically so, as long as the "robot revolution" doesn't happen overnight if may very well happen that as more and

          • Solaria was a freak exception in Asimov's Spacer Universe. In Asimov's work, it wasn't an end result, but a dead end set up to die. His ideal Spacer world was Aurora, which had a high degree of automation but still had plenty of human interaction.

            The robot revolution has started, and is moving fairly fast. As far as population growth or shrinkage goes, it is happening overnight.

      • by Shados ( 741919 )

        And we pushed really hard to increase high skill labor headcount, pushing a percentage of those people up. Great.

        Do you think we can keep doing that forever? That everyone, given the chance, can get a PhD?

    • by Kjella ( 173770 )

      Momentum Machines is something of a fizzle, it's been years since they made their marketing stunt but they've been unable to convince any of the big burger chains to pick it up or start their own prototype restaurant. All this talk of freshness and customization ignores the fact that the toppings are drowned in dressing and despite offering customization few actually use it because if you order a common burger there's often one almost ready to eat, you don't go there for a made-to-order burger. And 360 burg

      • And when they haven't really embraced self-service ordering which should be the easy part, well I think the employees are safe a little while longer.

        Regarding this point, there is a fine line between saving money and having good customer service. That being said, Siri often understands me better than the 17 year old kid behind the counter. Honestly I don't want to use a touch screen order system, but if I can just speak my order, I'll take that.

        Also, keep in mind the push to replace fast food workers hasn't hit yet because the min wage is still $7.25/hr. Oh sure, a few places it is higher, but you don't develop for a national chain like McDonald's ba

        • by dryeo ( 100693 )

          On the other hand, in an age of lowering wages (inflation means that $7.25hr has less buying power every year) and basics like food, transportation and shelter increasing in costs faster then inflation, who is going to have spare money for luxuries like McDonalds.
          Used to be 3 McDonalds where I live. Population has gone up (almost doubled) along with the cost of housing and now there is only one. Hasn't really been other restaurants opening up either. We do have a Walmart now though.

          • I spent an hour on ebay last night and was completely amazed at how much I could buy with so little money. Things (non computer related) that I would have spent tens of (1980's) dollars on, I can now by for a couple of 2015 dollars.
            • by dryeo ( 100693 )

              We're talking minimum wage workers, people without an internet connection or computer and probably no credit card, little well enough disposable income to buy stuff on ebay.
              Just like the poor often can't grocery shop at the cheap stores as they're often in the wrong location, they often can't shop online.

              • I make less than minimum wage, yet have figured ot how to do this. Are they mentally retarded? There are programs for this. What would these people have done 100 or 500 years ago?
      • what do you do if it's out of order

        Maybe have a backup spare that can take over until the broken one gets repaired. You know, like how things work in the real world.

    • Maybe this works for regular burgers. Can this machine make a Big Mac, with it's three buns and two meat patties? How about bacon burgers? Can it fry up the bacon? Chicken burgers, with breaded or grilled patties? How hard it is to reprogram for new specialty items? What about your local Taco Time? They've got all sorts of menu items that require a wide variety of preparation techniques, and they add new products all the time.

      Any sort of device that could effectively prepare all those items would be

      • At $7.25/hr, I'd agree with you, employees would be hard to beat.

        The question becomes, how high does that have to go before that changes?

        It might cost a million dollars to put a robot into a McDonald's that can make most of their menu. That probably makes no sense at current wages. Maybe it doesn't at $15/hr either. But at some number it should.

        And it won't remove all employees, just cut down the number of them. You might go from 8 people during lunch to 4.

        • by tsotha ( 720379 )
          A million dollars? That's far more than I would have estimated.
          • Perhaps, but such things tend to be expensive because they are low volume and are used in commercial kitchens, so they can be priced higher.

            Still, I suspect it wouldn't actually take that long to pay for itself. A McDonald's open 24/7 that can cut its kitchen staff by 2-4 people, works out to $1,839,600 at a total employee cost of $10/hr, with an average of 3 employees removed.

            Now in fairness, it might only save 1 person overnight, and you might need 2 machines for busy places, but frankly it could pay for

            • by tsotha ( 720379 )

              There are 35,000 McDonalds restaurants. Even assuming you made a machine that couldn't be used at any other chain, that's not what I would call low volume.

              Anyway the low-hanging fruit for fast food restaurants is the register. Self-serve kiosks are cheap - McDonalds already uses them in countries with high labor costs and ubiquitous electronic payment systems. I doubt we'll see burger machines while they're still paying people to take your order.

              • Fair points...

                I suppose that it just shows that it makes sense to pay people to do that job, at $7.25/hr, but if min wage was really raised nationally to $15/hr, they'd start with order taking and move on from there.

                Honestly, I'd personally rather have robots make my food anyway, it will come out better, cleaner, and healthier than if humans make it.

      • Everything you mentioned in your first paragraph is completely trivial. Do you seriously believe that it's significantly harder to build a robot that can handle a bacon burger, or a two-patty-three-bun burger, or a chicken burger?

        This is just a robot that makes a tower of ingredients. Sometimes the ingredient list is "bottom-bun, patty, top-bun", sometimes it's "bottom-bun, patty, middle-bun, patty, bacon, top-bun". That's basically trivial. The only substantial difference between a big mac and a chicke

        • You're simply focusing on the idealized mechanics, and ignoring the real world requirements of the device. Such a machine needs to be:

          * Affordable - the machine has to pay for itself in a reasonable amount of time.
          * Reliable - a business will rely on this machine for it's daily revenue, and so it has to be extremely resistant to mechanical or electronic failures, and must produce high-quality products.
          * Flexible - it must be programmable, easily integrated into proprietary ordering systems, and be mechanic

          • You could get all the criteria except affordability now. (It doesn't need to be integrated into existing proprietary ordering systems, which can be replaced.) Robots are getting cheaper, and we hope people will continue to get more expensive.

    • > This will be an interesting challenge for the 21st century, what do we do with all the people who are no longer required to make stuff?

      Those people will still need to eat, need a place to stay.The answer is farming - either collective, or individually - everyone has the option to own in a piece of land and grow food to feed his family

      • Farming and growing your own food is hard, even with automation. It's far easier to wait around until someone brings the food to you.
      • So, if I can't find a job, I get shipped out somewhere rural, far from family and friends, and have to learn how to farm, even though I'll be far less efficient than the big automated farms? Doesn't sound good to me.

    • they're screwed either way. Either they don't make enough money to survive or they get replaced by robots. God knows we're not going to just give them enough money to live (the damn Welfare Queens (tm) ). They've got nothing to lose and everything to gain.
  • They are so efficient that they can move an entire warehouse and have ready to operate again during the weekend.

    Get it together, editors. How did you get this job?

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