When an Amazon customer opens her front door to greet that familiar cardboard box, it’s possible that any one of the company’s 100,000 drive units, 30 palletisers or six robo-stows played a part in the package’s delivery. A review of facts and figures associated with Amazon robotics within fulfilment centres is certainly nothing short of impressive.
But when breaking the bots down by the numbers, one clear figure—a human figure—emerges as paramount. That symbolic human figure represents both the customers on the receiving end of every box that’s shipped out as well as the human associates working to expedite each delivery. As for the bots? Well, they just do the heavy lifting to ensure that goal comes to life.
Amazon began using robotics in 2012 with its acquisition of Kiva systems; the Boston-based firm was later renamed Amazon Robotics. At the time, this marked Amazon’s second-largest acquisition, signifying the investment the company was placing in innovations around artificial intelligence (AI) and automation.
Amazon orders come to life inside the 175 fulfilment centres operating across the globe. And within 26 of these bustling centres, you’ll find human associates working in tandem with Amazon Robotics to get your packages efficiently sorted, boxed, and shipped to your front door.
Since introducing robots in 2012, approximately 300,000 full-time jobs have been added globally, disproving the misconception that machines are replacing humans in the workforce. In addition, robotic animation benefits employees, as they take over performance of fulfilment centres’ less desirable, more tedious tasks. Associates play a pivotal role in shaping the future of robotics innovations within the company, sharing feedback with technical teams on what’s working on the floor as well as areas where innovations could improve workflow, safety, and efficiency.
In the sophisticated choreography of movement that unfolds within fulfilment centres, thousands of orange drive units are the associates’ dance partners. Worldwide, 100,000 of these flat, wheeled, 300-pound workhorses glide across facility floors, swiftly scooting both small bins and large pallets of products to associates.
The 30 palletisers found throughout various fulfilment centres provide robotic muscle for the operation. These yellow robotic arms with grippers identify and lift boxes from conveyor belts before stacking them on pallets for stowage or shipping.
Similar in colour to a palletiser, the 6-ton robo-stow is an even heavier lifter. Used to expedite the inbound process once lorry loads of inventory reach the centres, the six robo-stows that are currently employed lift pallets of inventory up to drive units on higher floors within fulfilment centres.
On the floors throughout Amazon’s fulfilment centres, 2D barcodes are placed on the floor of robotics fields. Using these 2D barcodes, robots employ AI technologies to map out the most efficient route to bring associates the inventory pods needed. Once the route is mapped out, the robot will then take the correct pod of inventory to the associate for items to be either stowed or picked.
More than 500 hourly associates are currently enrolled in robotics-related courses, including engineering and computer science. Through the company’s Career Choice programme, associates who have been employed by Amazon for as little as one continuous year can receive reimbursement of up to 95% of tuition and fees toward earning certificates and associate degrees in high-demand occupations. Currently, more than 16,000 employees are participating in Career Choice
To date, nearly 100 Amazon associates have graduated from robotics-related courses.