Concerns About Job Displacement Arise as Amazon Introduces Robots in Warehouses

Amazon is currently exploring the use of a humanoid robot as part of its ongoing efforts to automate operations within its warehouses. The company has initiated trials with Digit, a two-legged robot capable of gripping and lifting items, initially using it to move empty tote boxes.

Amazon’s ambitious endeavor to integrate robotics into its extensive operations has raised concerns regarding its nearly 1.5 million-strong human workforce. Tye Brady, the Chief Technologist at Amazon Robotics, acknowledges that while automation may eliminate certain jobs, it will also generate new roles.

Speaking at a media event near Seattle, Brady emphasized the intention to “eliminate all the menial, the mundane, and the repetitive” tasks within Amazon’s business. However, he refuted the notion that this would lead to job reductions, asserting that Amazon would not require fewer employees.

Brady stressed the irreplaceable role of people in the company’s operations and dispelled the notion of fully automated warehouses, stating, “There’s not any part of me that thinks that would ever be a reality.” He underlined the centrality of people to the fulfillment process, highlighting their ability to think critically and troubleshoot. “We will always need people… I’ve never been around an automated system that works 100% of the time,” he added.

Digit, developed by the start-up Agility Robotics in Corvallis, Oregon and supported by Amazon, is a versatile robot capable of various movements and tasks. It stands at 5 feet 9 inches (175 cm), weighs 143 pounds (65 kg), and can carry up to 35 pounds (16 kg).

Amazon intends to deploy Digit to work in innovative ways within warehouse spaces and corners. The initial application involves assisting employees with tote recycling, a repetitive process of moving empty totes after inventory has been removed.

Notably, Ford was the first buyer of Digit robots, and Agility Robotics received investment from Amazon’s Industrial Innovation Fund in the past year.

In a separate announcement at the event, Amazon introduced a robotic system called Sequoia, deployed at one of its Houston warehouses to expedite deliveries. This system is designed to speed up inventory identification and storage by 75%, potentially reducing order processing times by up to 25%.

Tye Brady emphasized the concept of collaborative robotics where people remain central, allowing robots to support and enhance their roles. He compared well-implemented robotic systems to household appliances that blend into the background, becoming an integral part of daily operations.

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