Whilst I was surfing around Amazon this week to watch The Grand Tour, the new car TV series in Amazon Prime, I stumbled across Amazon Robotics and I thought it would be interesting to share what Amazon is using robots for and what is their future aim in robotics.
Amazon acquired Kiva for $775 million in 2012 and started using the orange robots in its warehouses in late 2014. Kiva has two models of robots. The smaller model is capable of lifting 1000 pounds and the larger model can lift loads as heavy as 3,000 pounds. The maximum speed of a Kiva robot is 1.3 meters per second. In addition, the mobile bots are battery-powered and need to be recharged every hour for five minutes. Currently Amazon has 30,000 of the robots working across 13 warehouses.
The “click to ship” cycle used to be around an hour when employees had manually to sift through the stacks, pick the product, pack it, and ship it. Now, robots handle the same job in 15 minutes. Each Kiva-equipped warehouse can hold 50% more inventory per square foot. Sequentially, Amazon’s operating costs have been reduced by 20%—or almost $22 million—per warehouse. If Kiva robots were dispatched to the rest of the 110 Amazon warehouses, it would cost $15-$20 million to install robots in each warehouse and savings would be expected to be around $800 million.
In Kiva’s approach, items are stored on portable storage units. When an order is entered into the Kiva database system, the software locates the closest automated guided bot to the item and directs it to retrieve it. The mobile robots navigate around the warehouse by following a series of computerized barcode stickers on the floor. Each drive unit has a sensor that prevents it from colliding with others. When the drive unit reaches the target location, it slides underneath the pod and lifts it off the ground. The robot then carries the pod to the specified human operator to pick the items.
Amazon has its own grand vision for robots. The company is trying to find ones that can carry out more diverse and advanced tasks. Perhaps ones that can sort and fill orders on their own, deliver those orders, and even understand orders placed by humans.
However, Amazon is downplaying the possibility that humans will lose jobs to robots. The company points out that it has increased human head count since introducing Amazon Robotics. There are still many job and internship opportunities available for those that are interested in software development and code programming.