Advanced Technology in AmazonEditAmazon's main facility is a million-square-foot warehouse in Robbinsville, New Jersey. The process of receiving an order, finding the product and packaging it for shipping is an advanced system that implements the use of technology. Computer-assisted precision identifies, sorts, and packages products. Each new product is identified using a computer vision system that catalogs it, feeding its weight and dimensions into a central tracking system. Items are stored on tall square shelves that are kept stocked by humans who work with a team of 2,000 squat orange robots. The robots pick up shelves and either arrange them in neat rows for storage or bring them over to the human workers, who stack or pick from them. Further along the line, workers are in-charge of packing up orders for shipping and are automatically given the optimal size of shipping boxes and even the correct amount of packing tape. Before those boxes are sent to trucks, a system weighs them to make sure the correct products are inside.
At the center of the warehouse is a storage space containing square shelves packed with countless products from Amazon’s inventory. In previous generations of its fulfillment center, Amazon’s workers would have roamed these shelves searching for the products needed to fulfill each new order. Now the shelves themselves glide quickly across the floor carried atop robots about the size and shape of footstools. In a carefully choreographed dance, these robots either rearrange the shelves in neatly packed rows, or bring them over to human workers, who stack them with new products or retrieve goods for packaging.Amazon’s robotic shelves allow more products to be packed into a tighter space. They also make stacking and picking more efficient by automatically bringing empty shelves over to packers or the right products over to pickers. The process is more efficient than having humans walk around, so it also a good example of how automation can be combined with human labor to increase productivity.
Amazon’s robots come from a company called Kiva Systems that it acquired in 2012. They are controlled by a central computer and navigate using markers on the ground. Amazon has begun exploring ways that it might someday automate some of the shelf-picking work at its factories. However, robots are still incapable of tasks that require fine manipulation or improvisation, so it is useful to devise ways for robots to collaborate with humans more effectively.