Amazon will no doubt leverage as many advanced technologies as possible to improve its logistics facilities, including artificial intelligence and robotics, among others, but when will they take over completely?
Are Robots Taking Over?
According to Scott Anderson, Amazon's director of robotics fulfillment, the notion of a fully end-to-end automated warehouse is at least 10 years away. His statements, as reported by Reuters, glimpse at the impending yet slow progression of automation, even in operations where robot-aided assistance can be at its most potent.
Although it's absurd to think that humans can replace all human jobs, these machines are excellent in the context of repeatable tasks they can be programmed to do over and over again without tiring, downtime, or rest. To make the robot do other tasks involves expensive research and development, even more so teaching it to do multiple tasks in various environments, especially those that require the robot to understand and process its surroundings.
Suffice it to say that a robot is not yet capable of replacing humans entirely, especially in the context of Amazon's warehouses. At those locations, humans still perform most of the labor because it's difficult to program robots to see the world and perform at a dexterity level as that of their humans counterparts.
Still, robots are headed there, and it's accelerating, albeit slowly, to human-levels of sophisticated labor. Amazon is one of many companies flourishing in this arena. It has 110 warehouses in the United States alone, 45 sorting centers, and about 50 delivery stations, employing over 125,000 full-time employees combined. Only a tiny portion of that labor is handed off to robots — for now, at least. They're simply too imprecise and beholden to common mistakes at the moment, and they'll require a significant time to be trained, which in turn demands heaps of development money.
Not So Fast
Being one of the richest companies in the world, Amazon has no problem when it comes to funds needed to make its robots better. In fact, it already uses small ones called "drives" to deliver large stacks of products around the warehouse. But the notion of fully automated Amazon warehouses is still far.
"In the current form, the technology is very limited. The technology is very far from the fully automated workstation that we would need," according to Anderson.