Homepage / Technology / As Amazon pushes forward with robots, workers find new roles
Amazon says this Prime Day was its biggest shopping event ever Kudlow says President Trump is 'so dissatisfied' with China trade talks that he is keeping the pressure on As stocks regain their footing, an ominous warning looms Goldman Sachs downgrades Clorox to sell, says valuation is 'unsustainably high' How Satya Nadella has spurred a tripling of Microsoft's stock price in just over four years Kudlow says economic growth could top 4% for 'a quarter or two,' more tax cuts could be coming The one chart that explains Netflix’s stunning comeback US housing starts plunge 12% in June to a nine-month low Aerospace titans Boeing and Airbus top $110 billion in orders at Farnborough Target uses Prime Day to its advantage, logging its 'biggest online shopping day' so far this year Billionaire Marc Lasry sees bitcoin reaching up to $40,000 as it becomes more mainstream and easier to trade These are the 10 US airports where you're most likely to be hacked Amazon shares slightly higher as investors await Prime Day results Wreck of Russian warship found, believed to hold gold worth $130 billion A bullish ‘phenomenon’ in bond market is weeks away from fading, top credit strategist says Stocks making the biggest moves premarket: MS, GOOGL, TXN, UAL, NFLX & more Twitter shares up 50% since late April means most upside priced in, analyst says in downgrade EU fines Google $5 billion over Android antitrust abuse Mortgage applications fall 2.5% as buyers struggle to find affordable homes America may not have the tools to counter the next financial crisis, warn Bernanke, Geithner and Paulson Investors are getting spooked as the risk of a no-deal Brexit rises EU expected to fine Google $5 billion over Android antitrust abuse Ex-FBI chief James Comey urges Americans to vote for Democrats in midterm elections Elon Musk apologizes to British cave diver following baseless 'pedo guy' claim Disney, Comcast and Fox: All you need to know about one of the biggest media battles ever Xiaomi shares notch new high after Hong Kong, mainland China stock exchanges reach agreement The trade war is complicating China's efforts to fix its economy European markets set for a strong open amid earnings; Google in focus Hedge fund billionaire Einhorn places sixth in major poker tournament The biggest spender of political ads on Facebook? President Trump Asian stocks poised to gain after Fed's Powell gives upbeat comments; dollar firmer Stocks are setting up to break to new highs Not all FAANG stocks are created equal EU ruling may be too little, too late to stop Google's mobile dominance Cramer explains how Netflix's stock managed to taper its drop after disappointing on earnings Airbnb condemns New York City's 'bellhop politics,' threatens legal retaliation Amazon sellers say they were unfairly suspended right before Prime Day, and now have two bad choices Investor explains why 'duller' tech stocks can have better returns than 'high-flying' tech names Elon Musk is 'thin-skinned and short-tempered,' says tech VC Texas Instruments CEO Brian Crutcher resigns for violating code of conduct Google Cloud Platform fixes issues that took down Spotify, Snapchat and other popular sites Uber exec: We want to become the 'one stop' transportation app 'What a dumb hearing,' says Democrat as Congress grills tech companies on conservative bias Amazon shares rebound, report says Prime Day sales jumped 89 percent in first 12 hours of the event How to put your medical history on your iPhone in less than 5 minutes Investment chief: Watch these two big events in 2018 Even with Netflix slowing, the market rally is likely not over Cramer: Netflix subscriber weakness debunks the 'sky's the limit' theory on the stock Netflix is looking at watch time as a new area of growth, but the competition is stiff Why Nobel laureate Richard Thaler follows Warren Buffett's advice to avoid bitcoin Rolls-Royce is developing tiny 'cockroach' robots to crawl in and fix airplane engines After Netflix plunge, Wall Street analysts forecast just tame returns ahead for the once high-flying FANG group Roku shares rise after analyst raises streaming video company's price target due to customer growth China is investing 9 times more into Europe than into North America, report reveals Amazon says US Prime Day sales 'so far bigger than ever' as glitch is resolved Netflix is on pace for its worst day in two years US lumber producers see huge opportunity, rush to expand San Francisco to consider tax on companies to help homeless Homebuilder sentiment, still high, stalls as tariffs, labor and land drive up costs Powell backs more rate hikes as economy growing 'considerably stronger' Netflix history is filled with big stock declines – like today – followed by bigger rebounds Intel shares get downgraded by Evercore ISI due to rising competition from Nvidia, AMD Petco aims to reinvent the pet store with something you can't buy online Genetic testing is coming of age, but for consumers it's buyer beware Tech 'FAANG' was the most-crowded trade in the world heading into the Netflix implosion, survey shows Netflix weak subscriber growth may indicate a 'maturity wall' that could whack the stock even more: Analyst This chart may be predicting the bull market's demise Wall Street says Netflix's stock plunge is a ‘compelling’ buying opportunity because the streaming giant ‘never misses twice’ Tesla sinks after Musk tweets, again Boeing announces new division devoted to flying taxis Stocks making the biggest move premarket: NFLX, UNH, GS, AMZN, WMT & more Deutsche Bank downgrades Netflix, but says big subscriber miss is not 'thesis changing' IBM is experimenting with a cryptocurrency that’s pegged to the US dollar North Korea and Zimbabwe: A friendship explained Virgin Galactic spinoff Orbit to launch rockets from the UK with space deal Artificial intelligence will create more jobs than it destroys? That’s what PwC says ‘Treasonous’ Trump and ‘Putin’s poodle:' Scathing headlines follow the Trump-Putin summit China’s fintech companies offer ‘enormous’ opportunity, investment manager says Trump's performance at summit with Putin was 'unprecedented,' experts say Walmart and Microsoft link up on cloud technology as they both battle Amazon European stocks seen mixed amid earnings; Fed’s Powell to address Congress How I knew I should quit my day job and run my start-up full-time: Viral website founder China's stocks have been trounced, but the trade war may ultimately be good news for those shares Billionaire tech investor Peter Thiel bets on crypto start-up Block.one Asian shares subdued open after mixed close on Wall Street; energy stocks under pressure Amazon cloud hits snags after Amazon Prime Day downtime Netflix isn't doomed by one quarter unless people start questioning the long-term investor thesis Tech stocks set to sink on Tuesday after rough evening for ‘FANG’ Netflix plummets after missing big on subscriber growth This wristband lets humans control machines with their minds The U.S. has a rocky history convincing Russia to extradite computer criminals Amazon suffers glitches at the start of Prime Day Jeff Bezos is now the richest man in modern history 'The United States has been foolish': Read Trump and Putin's full exchange Goldman Sachs recommends these 5 highly profitable companies — including Nvidia — to combat rising inflation Goldman Sachs releases 'tactical' stock picks for this earnings season Three red flags for Netflix ahead of its earnings report The bond market may be raising recession fears, but don't expect one anytime soon Cramer: Banks are 'making fortunes' but are still as hated as they were during the financial crisis Putin told Trump at summit: Russia never meddled in US election

Technology

As Amazon pushes forward with robots, workers find new roles

Nissa Scott started working at the cavernous Amazon warehouse in southern New Jersey late last year, stacking plastic bins the size of small ottomans. It was not, she says, the most stimulating activity. And lifting the bins, which often weigh 25 pounds each, was also tiring over 10-hour shifts.

Now Ms. Scott, 21, watches her replacement — a giant, bright yellow mechanical arm — do the stacking.

Her new job at Amazon is to babysit several robots at a time, troubleshooting them when necessary and making sure they have bins to load. On a recent afternoon, a claw at end of the arm grabbed a bin off a conveyor belt and stacked it on another bin, forming neat columns on wooden pallets surrounding the robot. It was the first time Amazon had shown the arm, the latest generation of robots in use at its warehouses, to a reporter.

“For me, it’s the most mentally challenging thing we have here,” Ms. Scott said of her new job. “It’s not repetitive.”

Perhaps no company embodies the anxieties and hopes around automation better than Amazon. Many people,

, blame the company for destroying traditional retail jobs by enticing people to shop online. At the same time, the company’s eye-popping growth has turned it into a hiring machine, with an unquenchable need for entry-level warehouse workers to satisfy customer orders.

Amazon’s global work force is three times larger than Microsoft’s and 18 times larger than Facebook’s, and last week, Amazon said it would open a second headquarters in North America with up to 50,000 new jobs.

Complicating the equation even more, Amazon is also on the forefront of automation, finding new ways of getting robots to do the work once handled by employees. In 2014, the company began rolling out robots to its warehouses using machines originally developed by Kiva Systems, a company Amazon bought for $775 million two years earlier and renamed Amazon Robotics. Amazon now has more than 100,000 robots in action around the world, and it has plans to add many more to the mix.

The robots make warehouse work less tedious and physically taxing, while also enabling the kinds of efficiency gains that let a customer order dental floss after breakfast and receive it before dinner.

“It’s certainly true that Amazon would not be able to operate at the costs they have and the costs they provide customers without this automation,” said Martin Ford, a futurist and author of “Rise of the Robots,” a book about automation. “Maybe we wouldn’t be getting two-day shipping.”

The dynamics between people and machines play out on a daily basis on the floor of Amazon warehouses in places like Florence, N.J., and Kent, Wash. In Kent, the robots vaguely resemble giant beetles and scurry around with vertical shelves loaded with merchandise weighing up to 3,000 pounds on their backs. Hundreds of them move autonomously inside a large caged area, tailgating each other but not colliding.

On one edge of the cage, a group of human workers — the “stowers” — stuff products onto the shelves, replenishing their inventory. The robots whisk those shelves away and when a customer order arrives for products stored on their backs, they queue up at stations on another edge of the cage like cars waiting to go through a toll both.

There, human “pickers” follow instructions on computer screens, grabbing items off the shelves and putting them in plastic bins, which then disappear on conveyor belts destined for “packers,” people who put the products in cardboard boxes bound for customers.

Dave Clark, the top executive in charge of operations at Amazon, said the company wanted the machines to perform the most monotonous tasks, leaving people to do jobs that engage them mentally.

“It’s a new item each time,” Mr. Clark said. “You’re finding something, you’re inspecting things, you’re engaging your mind in a way that I think is important.”

The robots also cut down on the walking required of workers, making Amazon pickers more efficient and less tired. The robots also allow Amazon to pack shelves together like cars in rush-hour traffic, because they no longer need aisle space for humans. The greater density of shelf space means more inventory under one roof, which means better selection for customers.

The Amazon warehouse in Florence shows the latest example of the kinds of jobs machines can do better than people. Eight mechanical arms are in operation at the facility, a warehouse where large quantities of merchandise are broken down into smaller units and distributed to Amazon fulfillment centers across the country.

The arms go by the awkward name of robotic palletizers, but workers have given them a dash of personality, sticking signs on each one naming them after Stuart, Dave and other minion characters from the “Despicable Me” movies. Unlike the warehouse robots in Kent, which were based on the machines Amazon got through its Kiva acquisition, these arms come from an outside company.

Amazon began installing them late last year, not long after it opened the warehouse in Florence. The robot arm is configured to pick up only bins of a standard size, not objects of other dimensions. In a demonstration of future possibilities, Amazon showed a virtual reality simulation used to prototype new robot concepts, including an arm with a forklift attachment that moved pallets.

When Amazon installed the robots, some people who had stacked bins before, like Ms. Scott, took courses at the company to become robot operators. Many others moved to receiving stations, where they manually sort big boxes of merchandise into bins. No people were laid off when the robots were installed, and Amazon found new roles for the displaced workers, Mr. Clark said.

“The people didn’t go anywhere,” he said.

More from The New York Times:

The question going forward is: What happens when the future generations of robots arrive?

For now, there are warehouse tasks — for example, picking individual items off shelves, with all their various shapes and sizes — where people outperform robots. Amazon has added 80,000 warehouse employees in the United States since adding the Kiva robots, for a total of more than 125,000 warehouse employees. And it says the warehouse hiring spree will continue.

But start-ups and researchers are scrambling to overcome the many remaining technical obstacles. Amazon even sponsors an annual contest to encourage more innovation in the category.

Mr. Ford, the author, believes it is just a matter of time before the employment picture in Amazon’s warehouses changes.

“My assumption is this technology will eventually displace a lot of people in those warehouses,” Mr. Ford said. “I would not say that overnight huge numbers of jobs disappear. Maybe the first indication is they don’t get rid of those people but the pace of job creation slows down.”

Amazon’s Mr. Clark said history showed that automation increases productivity and, in some cases, demand from consumers, which ultimately creates more jobs. He said warehouse workers would continue to work in technologically rich environments.

“It’s a myth that automation destroys net job growth,” he said.

In the case of the Florence facility, it opened up the new opportunity for Ms. Scott.

At one point, one of the arms knocked over a tote, sending a dozen or so cone-shaped plastic coffee filters skidding across the ground. Ms. Scott hit a button that froze the arm so she could safely pick up the mess.

Then the arms started working again.

“The robot will work the same all day long,” said Edward Cohoon, who supervises Ms. Scott and other Amazon workers as they tend to individual robots. “Their stomachs don’t grumble.”

Source: Tech CNBC
As Amazon pushes forward with robots, workers find new roles

Comments are closed.