Last week Amazon, the online retailer, announced it was buying a robot maker called Kiva Systems for $775 million in cash. Before you get excited that Amazon may offer a robot that can tuck you into bed at night and read Kindle books to you, this isn’t that kind of robot company. Instead, Kiva Systems’ orange robots are designed to move around warehouses and stock shelves.

Or, as the company says on its Web site, using “hundreds of autonomous mobile robots,” Kiva Systems “enables extremely fast cycle times with reduced labor requirements.”

In other words, these robots will most likely replace human workers in Amazon’s warehouses.

Robots have been in factories for decades. But increasingly we will see them out in the open. Already little ones — toys, really — sweep floors. But they are getting better at doing what we do. Soon, if Google’s efforts to create driverless cars are successful, cab drivers, cross-country truckers and even ambulance drivers could be out of a job, replaced by a computer in the driver’s seat.

We are starting to see robots on the battlefield. We could eventually have robot police officers and firefighters, robotic guides, robot doctors, maybe even robotic journalists.

Time to panic?

  1. jbenson2 says:

    Future Electronics has a similar robot stocking / pulling system in England. The aisles are too narrow for human beings. The robot is controlled on the X/Y axis and works in the dark. The shelves are 30+ feet high. Once a product is pulled, it is sent out to the shipping area where a human gets to count and pack the item, then apply the shipping paperwork.

    And in the off-hours, the computer has the robots actually defragging the shelves (just like a hard drive) and repositioning the faster moving inventory closer to the shipping area.

  2. RDH says:

    When I was working for Ma Bell back in the early ’80s, they were testing robotic mail delivery in a high rise building. They would follow a chemical “scent” that was sprayed on the carpet for their navigation. I don’t think it saved much on labor as someone would have to operate the elevators for them and manually service them at each floor’s mail station. It was pretty funny when the cleaning crew shampooed some of the carpet, removing the scent trail. You would see a robot just setting there trying to figure out where to go.

  3. Cap'nKangaroo says:

    “Soon, if Google’s efforts to create driverless cars are successful, cab drivers, cross-country truckers …could be out of a job, replaced by a computer in the driver’s seat.”

    I’m not worried about any robot replacing me behind the wheel of my truck, partly because that is only part of what my job as a long-haul trucker is. No robot is foolish enough to climb 15 ft in the air on top of a round tank in the rain to unfold a tarp to protect the tank from the elements. Especially as the tank has been stored outside exposed to the elements for the past month. No robot can deal with a shipper who doesn’t know what you are picking up, doesn’t know where it is going, or who is the ultimate consignee. All he knows is he asked for a truck yesterday, so why did it take 12 hrs for me to get to him with the special trailer he needs. Nevermind that I was 400 miles away and had not yet unloaded from my previous load when he requested me. And why can my truck not make it from Connecticut on Monday to San Francisco on Thursday with only one driver and never exceed 65 mph?

    A robot would never put up with the BS.

  4. kmfix says:

    Sarah Connor, you’re screwed.

  5. nolimit662 says:

    And soon after all the robots will grind to a halt as they forgot to enter into the equation that people need jobs to buy their products.

  6. Glenn E. says:

    This might anger the Teamsters Union, a little bit. As I believe they controlled unions for warehouse workers. But those jobs have mainly moved overseas, anyway. Stuff only get warehoused in the US, long enough to go from a train or big truck, into smaller trucks. So they’re more conveyor belt mazes, than dusty shelving. And the Teamsters still run the train and trucking unions, that deliver and haul goods away. So they’re a long way from being hurt by automation of the and rails and roads.

    Besides, even though robots can still drop things. They’re far less likely to do so, compared to human forklift operators. And robots aren’t deceptive about it, as humans operators. If anyone is still covering up for product breakage, it’s the warehouse managers. Which is probably their main reason for being employed there. Run the robots and cover up the losses.

    • nolimit662 says:

      More trash talk….why do people only think the worst of people……Most of us are honest hard working people. Get a life troll!!

  7. Tacotrainwreck says:

    What a waste. Why build robots meant to do simple warehouse work when they could be used to strangle children like the image depicts?

  8. Yaknow says:

    It was time to panic when John Henry lost to the steam powered hammer, today when the register computer that was malfunctioning in the busy grocery store backing up the line with a clerk who had no idea what to do. Despite people waving cash.

  9. Palooka says:

    Staples has been using these units for years. They get underneath a square shelving unit elevate it and move it to a human picker. Once the human has picked the merchandise they move the shelving unit back into the warehouse. The inventory system is constantly moving the shelving units around putting the most popular items closest to the pickers. On the receving end it the opposite. Robots move the shelving units to the receiving dock where the unpackers place the merchandise on the shelving unit. The robot then places the shelving unit in the warehouse at the direction of the inventory control system.

  10. BigBoyBC says:

    I’ve read stories on the internet about how tough it is to work the warehouses at Amazon, especially around the holidays. If this will improve working conditions, more power to them. Hopefully they don’t have to lay-off too many people.

  11. Amnesty for cartels says:

    Yet another reason for your kids to get a college diploma, and find a career that can’t be automated. Like a teacher, maybe. Or a nurse or medical therapist. Maybe.

  12. CrankyGeeksFan says:

    It would be interesting to now start counting in order to determine how many jobs will be lost.

    There was a tv show made in the mid-1990s that showed an Amazon warehouse, and it was staffed by many members of generation X. I’m sure many have moved on to other jobs, but there are many college graduates – along with many others – who would like to work there now.

  13. msbpodcast says:

    Amazon doesn’t care about creating or saving jobs I guess.

    Jeff Bezos is currently more interested in recycling rocket motors than in saving your financial ass.

    As long as the difference between the job/income losses are fractionally smaller than the shrinking pool of disposable income Amazon will make money.

    When those curves has flattened out, Bezos will still be a billionaire and not give a flying fuck.

    He’ll still have an entirely automated warehouse ready to ship out the occasional products at rock-bottom prices for the remaning 1%ers.

    (Buy stock in FedEx an UPS)

  14. nolimit662 says:

    That’s ok….when things get so outta whack that everyone’s tearing down and torching every goddamn place in the country because they have nothing to lose anymore, all the heartless greedy thugs that ran this country into the ground will get their day of reckoning.

  15. Steve S says:

    I don’t think the Teamsters have to worry about losing their jobs. Just like people who threaten the Teamster’s livelihood, Robots can have accidents too, like falling on a pickaxe………

  16. Semantics says:

    This was news 3 weeks ago when it was announced.

  17. deowll says:

    You have people complaining about working in hot warehouses and people complaining about not working.

    This is only going to make one of those groups happy.

  18. Phydeau says:

    This is indeed a strange trend. What happens when robots take over more and more jobs? What is the average 100-IQ guy or gal going to do for work when robots take over the work that they currently do? I guess the one percenters will be happy if they just die off — they won’t need average people any more when the robots can do it all.

    Strange times.

    • The Monster's Lawyer says:

      They can make robots.

      • Phydeau says:

        Robots will be making robots. And the people designing robots will be the high-IQ system engineer types, not Joe Sixpack. 🙁

  19. ± says:

    Already we have trolls that automatically blame Democratic politicians for everything.

  20. NewfornatSux says:

    Not new. Food distributors have been using robots for decades.

    • The Monster's Lawyer says:

      I thought my “Lean Cuisine” tasted a little metallic.

  21. JimD, Boston, MA says:


  22. The Monster's Lawyer says:

    I for one welcome our metal overlords!

  23. Anonymous says:

    We could also see robot political candidates too!

    Or is would that be another case of “been there, done that”?

  24. Glenn E. says:

    I have to wonder if this item is part of this blogs own “train good, planes bad” luddite fear? Frankly, robots replacing select human jobs, has been a positive thing, as far as I can tell. The automakers use them to do the body welding and spraying. Something that would be much more dangerous and slower if humans still did it. The robot welders are much faster and more accurate. And probably keep the cost of cars down, and speed the production. You want few and more expensive choices of cars, without robots.

    Warehouse robots just move the merchandise much more efficiently, and without loss of life or injury. There will always be plenty of other warehouses, without the high volume turnover, to employ tractor operators. Not everyplace can be made robot friendly. And new jobs always come along, that can’t be so easily automated. What robots can’t do, usually a chinar-man can. 🙂

    I seriously doubt we’ll be seeing robots out in the world, in the near future. Outside environments are much harder to program the variables for. Small wildlife won’t fear them enough to stay out of their way. And weather is another random variable, too difficult to fully account for. The artificial brainpower to do so, would make such robots way too expensive for menial jobs. Human brainpower comes pre-programmed to handle most anything found outside. And as long as there are 7 billion of them. An inexhaustible variety to choice from. Million dollar robots will not be driving tow trucks. You can count on that.


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