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Robotics Businesses Technology

Autonomous Forklift May Eat Up Warehouse Jobs (technologyreview.com) 122

Jamie Condliffe reports via MIT Technology Review: Seegrid, a provider of material-handling equipment, takes the kinds of forklifts that move 8,000-pound loads around warehouses and makes them autonomous. It does that by popping five stereo cameras on top of the vehicles, having a human drive them around to map a space, and then using image recognition systems similar to those in autonomous cars to navigate the facilities. (Unlike autonomous cars that use sensors like radar and lidar, Seegrid can use just cameras, because lighting conditions in warehouses are more consistent than those on the open road.) But while it's easy enough to have a forklift move objects from one side of a factory to another, reliably loading and unloading them poses a bigger challenge. Other robots designed to haul loads like this tend to pick things up from below, rather than spearing pallets with forks. So autonomous forklifts usually require humans to be present during pickup and dropoff to make sure nothing goes wrong. Seegrid's new GP8 Series 6 forklift has been engineered to reverse its forks into pallets, pick them up, and set them down without a human in the loop.
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Autonomous Forklift May Eat Up Warehouse Jobs

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  • Thanks Seegrid! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by FunkSoulBrother ( 140893 ) on Tuesday August 22, 2017 @08:26PM (#55067359)

    Another small but vital step in getting a UBI in place in this country. :-)

    • With automation you won't need UBi. You can just get the upcoming VW self driving electric ID van and drive around the country parking for a few days in one paper to let its solar panels charge your battery. If you don't own some land (to setup an indoor automated farm), you can forage for food or eat at the automated soup kitchens or get a fishing robot. As for showers .. hmm how do the wild animals do that? Ok you may have to trade things you foraged with people who know how to make soap. Internet? Mesh

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Get this into your head. There won't ever be UBI. First off, it's stupid for the same reason that school vouchers are stupid--it will just cause prices to rise to where it's meaningless.

      Second, and most importantly, people don't want to pay you to work (and traitors to the human race here celebrate and enable it). How brain dead do you have to be to figure out that they're not gonna pay you to NOT work? You think you're so valuable doing nothing that the world gives a damn about you?

      No, the only cure f

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Who decides what level of automation is too much? Using a forklift, for example, takes away jobs from a team of people who could have been hired to lift the object. What about an electric fan? In ancient rome, a human used to have the job of waving a fan to cool people down. Textile making, humans used to be heavily involved in it .. now machines do it. Do we want to tun off those machines?

        Whose job is valuable and whose isn't?

    • Either UBI, or killbot-powered genocide of the working class...one of those is closer.

    • I don't understand where the money for UBI will come from. I don't have many needs other than food (cereal and milk or p&j sandwiches would be just fine), a bed, and a library card. I'd gladly quit my 6 figure salary job to get paid to lay around and read all day every day. I'm sure I'm not the only one. If far fewer people are paying taxes - who will provide the funds for my UBI?

  • by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Tuesday August 22, 2017 @08:41PM (#55067425)
    I have it on good authority by top experts on /. from previous threads about automation that there will be no job losses from automation. Also, skyrocketing productivity has had no negative impact on wages or employment. See, when it comes to labor the law of supply/demand is reversed. When demand for labor goes down it actually _increases_ its value. I know, crazy, right?
    • by Anonymous Coward
      You understand that if a company does not adopt this technology and its competitors do, it will be forced out of business, right? Then everyone in the company loses their jobs. Fighting against the tide of technological advancement is a losing proposition. You either embrace it or perish. Plenty of people will have jobs building and servicing these robots, and as the company expands the former forklift operators can be reassigned into other roles. #MAGA #TRUMP2020
    • Buggy whip makers and other cliches would like to have words with you.

      The argument is essentially always that automation will lead to dislocations and role changes, but the humans in the process will be doing more productive or less common work -- managing the production line, or programming the robots (maybe by simply demonstrating the pattern, or entering the pattern on a computer), or installing and repairing robots, or something that humans do better than robots.

      Don't be that asshole who claims victory

      • by Maxo-Texas ( 864189 ) on Tuesday August 22, 2017 @09:16PM (#55067549)

        Buggy whips were not replaced by electrically powered artificial humans who cost less than $40,000 per year per shift.

      • by swb ( 14022 )

        I don't think the economic arguments are necessarily wrong about the macro effects of change.

        The problem lies in the clinical language of "dislocation and role changes" of labor, as if labor just gets a slip of paper that reassigns them to another job in a different place. This is a major gloss over the fact that these are real people, often at later stages of careers, who practically can't "just go get another job" doing something completely different.

        It's compounded by the fact that the profits from thes

        • by Entrope ( 68843 )

          Maybe you think "dislocations" is a clinical term. I don't. It's merely shorter than writing that a lot of jobs will go away, and people will have to change careers or fields, with a lot of uncertainty and possibly retraining. It is obvious enough what online shopping (exemplified by Amazon.com) is doing to retail; it is not at all obvious what people who used to work in retail should do instead.

          There are a lot of hard questions about how to handle advancing automation and radical changes in technology,

        • by Anonymous Coward

          But of course in today's world a majority of the "owners of capital" aren't Daddy Warbucks sitting in their mansions sucking up profit from the work of the little people, it's workers with individual retirement plans that invest in mutual funds that own stock. That makes them the "owners of capital". About half of all workers in the U.S. own stock, either directly or through their retirement plans.
          So rants about "owners of capital" taking advantage of the rest of us are pretty hollow.

        • by thomn8r ( 635504 )

          The problem lies in the clinical language of "dislocation and role changes" of labor, as if labor just gets a slip of paper that reassigns them to another job in a different place. This is a major gloss over the fact that these are real people, often at later stages of careers, who practically can't "just go get another job" doing something completely different.

          This reminds me of a conservative radio piece I heard where the guest suggest that travel agents, who are becoming obsolete, should just become app developers, because that's the hot new thing where they need people.

    • skyrocketing productivity has had no negative impact on wages or employment.

      Productivity is not "skyrocketing". It has stagnated [qz.com].

      When demand for labor goes down it actually _increases_ its value. I know, crazy, right?

      Nobody believes that. You are being obtuse. What economists believe (with plenty of evidence) is that rising productivity does NOT reduce demand for labor, it increases it. This is known as Jevon's Paradox [wikipedia.org], but it really isn't a paradox at all. If you are a factory owner, and you are installing machinery that can double the production of each worker, and double your profits from each worker, would you fire half of them, or hire more?

      • Is demand for my product expanding at the same time as the amount of product I can supply? If not, then keeping my existing workforce is going to result in a whole bunch of excess inventory that will need to be warehoused.

        So, I would fire half of them at first, and then hire them back again when I have a need to be able to produce more.

        Or, you know, just upgrade the robots to version 2.0

        • Is demand for my product expanding at the same time as the amount of product I can supply?

          Historically, that hasn't mattered, becaus productivity improvements happened broadly across the economy. So even if demand for some particular product is fixed, there will be many more that see increased demand as production costs fall, and there will also be new products introduced based on the new technology.

          Increased demand for labor in the face of rising productivity is not some ivory tower theory. It is based on historical reality.

        • Is demand for my product expanding at the same time as the amount of product I can supply?

          You found the demand-side argument! Euer Gegener made the trickle-down (supply-side) argument.

          So, I would fire half of them at first, and then hire them back again when I have a need to be able to produce more.

          This is why we need welfare.

          Also ShanghaiBill got the more-complete argument [slashdot.org], but you're both on the right page. Slashdot is actually doing pretty well in economics this morning.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      It's kind of an argument between "knives don't cause wounds" and "any contact with a knife will leave a permanent, bleeding wound and you die!"

      Technical progress reduces labor. It boots people out of jobs. This also reduces the cost and, thus, risk of entering and operating in a market. For higher-cost goods, you expand your market, moving luxuries down to commodities. The same pressures that set the price point before (competition, consumer interest) create a new price point. Consumers will tolerate

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Who cares about the supply/demand for labor? As long as the GDP remains constant, there's enough to go around. The problem is figuring out how to distribute it fairly when the robots do all the work.

    • Yeah, this automation is rubbish and costs jobs. Let's get telegrams and telephone exchange operators back in. Automation tends to remove one job from one location and creates it in another. As the article states, ROI is not though labour cost reduction but planning, management, scaling and data errors.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      I have it from good experts that sarcasm isn't a useful way to try and make a point. People with a decent point to say, just say it, with out the added bullshit to give them cover if they are wrong.
  • This means no more videos of careless workers taking down entire racks of expensive vodka!
    • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

      Nope, just videos of hacked forklifts chasing down and forking the boss and the rest of the board.

      • Nope, just videos of hacked forklifts chasing down and forking the boss and the rest of the board.

        Ah, so you see the good in everything. 8^)

  • I hope they name the autonomous forklift system "Klaus".

  • by No Longer an AC ( 4611353 ) on Wednesday August 23, 2017 @12:44AM (#55068149)

    But I'm having a hard time imagining 8000 pound loads. I mean I only worked with supply chain management for about 20 years and it was amazing to me that automated systems could store boxes in carousels (and retrieve them as well) and even drop boxes of pills into totes for drug stores but I don't think that even the pallets being loaded on trucks weighed anything close to 8000 pounds.

    Maybe they were - meat is heavy but even when I worked for a protein provider (otherwise known as an abattoir) a cow only weighs about 1000 pounds (actually less I think especially after being disassembled and put into boxes).

    I don't think I ever saw a forklift carrying 8000 pounds. We were usually more concerned about how much space it took up.

    Of course the trucks that they were loaded on to carried much more than 8000 pounds. Wake me up when those are automated.

    Labor standards were a big issue both for our customers and the unions though. We had engineers who mapped warehouses and determined how much time it should take someone to pick all the product that was being received or shipped out. We calculated the shortest path, determined how much time someone should take to traverse it and how much time it should take for them to pick an item.

    Complete automation was always the dream and I'm sure it still is. The fewer human hands that have to touch something in a warehouse, the more efficient it is and the fewer mistakes that will be made - unless us developers totally screw up. (And we sometimes did)

      But at least robots don't steal products off the shelves (or do they?)

    And for reference I looked up how much a pallet can hold.

    https://greenwaypsllc.com/how-... [greenwaypsllc.com]

    4700 pounds,but I'm sure most pallets don't actually need to carry anything near that weight.

    But forget weight, the automation is the exciting aspect of this, but even in the '90s there were automated picking machines that could go down an aisle in a warehouse and grab pallets off shelves 50 feet in the air.

    I'm sure there is some need for pallets that can hold 8000 pound loads - that link I just used shows a pallet of brick for example.but your typical retailer like a grocery store or a drug store or Best Buy isn't shipping things that weigh that much.

    A warehouse without people - that is the dream.

    • This was being done in the '70s. The term was 'automated inventory control'. General Automation did the project, I worked for them at the time. John
  • The autonomous forklifts starts by eating all the jerbs and finishes by eating up all the goods it was supposed to move around. Never trust a hungry robot.
  • One good thing that would come out of this is that the autonomous forklift wouldn't use somebody's crates as an alternate set of brakes. You'd also eliminate forklift operators' propensity to practice jousting on crates.

  • Seegrid have been around for years. This is not news - just slash-vertising :-/

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