Amazon’s 15,000-Strong Robot Army Ready for Shoppers

Amazon RobotsAs reported by Amazon, over 15,000 specially designed wheeled robots will begin working warehouse floors and assist in getting toys, books, and other products to employees. In addition to these robots being a huge assistance for yesterday’s Cyber Monday shopping, they will continue to benefit throughout the holiday quarter.

One year ago, items were hand-picked by individuals who worked for Amazon, a long and tedious process but today, the army of robots have made inventory picking far more efficient. According to one employee who used to pull items together from warehouses, the robots have made it possible to pick items up to three times faster than before.

This year, Amazon has invested a significant amount of money to upgrade and expand the company’s distribution network, which included bringing on more than 80,000 seasonal workers and new technology for shipping centers. In a statement, Amazon reported that 36.8 million items were processed yesterday.

Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon says that the day will come when packages are delivered directly to the consumer’s address via drone but the technology is not quite ready. However, with so many disappointed shoppers last year who received orders late, primarily because of major snowstorms in the Midwest and last minute shipping snarls for both FedEx and UPS, Amazon wanted to make sure the same problems were not repeated.

Currently, Amazon is facing stiff competition from other online businesses to include eBay and Google, coupled with more traditional brick and mortar retailers who offer shoppers great online deals.

For the holiday quarter, Amazon forecasts $27.3 to $30.3 billion in revenue, this up from last year by 18%, although this is still lower than expectations from Wall Street. Regardless, literally billions of dollars have been spent on Amazon’s shipping network to ensure reliability, which is a huge focal point for consumers. According to Gene Munster with the investment firm Piper Jaffray, the forecast by Amazon is conservative.

Today, Amazon maintains 109 shipping centers throughout the world. One of the 10 centers that deployed robots is Tracy, using a technology acquired in 2012 when the robot maker, Kiva Systems, Inc. was purchased.

At the Tracy center alone there are over 1,500 full-time employees who cover a space of about 1.2 million square feet, the same size as 28 football fields. To help with inventory picking, the center utilizes the services of 3,000 robots that move seamlessly across the floor. Using scanning coded stickers placed on the floor, the robots have no trouble with navigation. They simply follow digital commands sent wireless from a central computer.

The relatively small orange robots have the ability to slide beneath and lift up stacks of shelves measuring four foot wide and designed to hold as much as 750 pounds. Then with bar codes that track items on the shelves, the robot has the ability to go to the correct shelf for every working as orders are placed.

Because the robots can move beneath, shelves can be stacked closely, thereby creating more room in the warehouse. Tracy currently has about 20 million items, or 3.5 million unique products that range from video games to books, to bottles of steak sauce. With the robots, 700,000 items can be shipped daily.

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