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Amazon Uses Robots To Speed Up Human 'Pickers' In Fulfillment Centers

Unknown Lamer posted about 7 months ago | from the man-is-obsolete dept.

Robotics 184

cagraham writes "The WSJ, combing through Amazon's Q3 earnings report, found that the company is currently using 1,400 robots across three of their fulfillment centers. The machines are made by Kiva Systems (a company acquired by Amazon last year), and help to warehouses more efficient by bringing the product shelves to the workers. The workers then select the right item from the shelf, box it, and place it on the conveyor line, while another shelf is brought. The management software that runs the robots can speed or slow down item pacing, reroute valuable orders to more experienced workers, and redistribute workloads to prevent backlogs."

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184 comments

Dice Strikes Again... (-1, Offtopic)

Frosty Piss (770223) | about 7 months ago | (#45647705)

...and help to warehouses more efficient by bringing the product shelves to the workers...

Do the "editors" actually read the summaries? I get this feeling that most of the new Slashdot "editors" where hired through Dice.com... Not a good sign.

Re:Dice Strikes Again... (5, Informative)

xyzio (1470567) | about 7 months ago | (#45647763)

They really do bring the product shelves to the workers. Watch: http://youtu.be/gvQKGev56qU [youtu.be]

Re:Dice Strikes Again... (2, Funny)

Frosty Piss (770223) | about 7 months ago | (#45647773)

And they "help to warehouses more efficient" as well!

Re:Dice Strikes Again... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45648161)

The spoken it, AMDOCS/AKAMAI has to infiltrate the national interest. How not been said yet, is supposed to be there is AMDOCS/AKAMAI was stopped.
AFFILIATES OF AND AMDOCS/AKAMAI, the proverbial thorn inside of national and privacy interests

Re:Dice Strikes Again... (2)

TubeSteak (669689) | about 7 months ago | (#45647943)

I'm curious as to why it's more efficient to bring the shelf to the picker than take the picker to the shelf.
Those robots could just as easily be ferrying around the pickers.

Re: Dice Strikes Again... (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45648005)

By moving the shelves they are able to create a queue of work for the picker, such that there is little downtime between picks. If the picker was moved, they would basically be idle while moving from shelf to shelf.

Re: Dice Strikes Again... (1)

davester666 (731373) | about 7 months ago | (#45648685)

There is also things like g-forces, where you can accelerate/decelerate objects faster than people without noticeably damaging them [not that Amazon cares about their workers, because new ones are cheap, just LOTS of paperwork].

But it wouldn't surprise me if they did this just to try stop the reports that keep coming out about them basically using up people in 1-6 months [where the people either quit because they are ill or fired for being unable to make quota anymore], then the people either need to be hospitalized [no health plan, yay] or just rest for months to recuperate.

Re: Dice Strikes Again... (1)

flyingfsck (986395) | about 7 months ago | (#45648773)

I think you missed the whoosh of the joke flying over your head...

Re: Dice Strikes Again... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45648887)

At Amazon, the head flies below the joke instead.

Re:Dice Strikes Again... (1)

DaphneDiane (72889) | about 7 months ago | (#45648031)

I'm curious as to why it's more efficient to bring the shelf to the picker than take the picker to the shelf.
Those robots could just as easily be ferrying around the pickers.

They could but that would make the process into a serial process. Why waste the time bringing the picker back and forth from the shelves to the belt? If you have enough or fast enough robots, it is more efficient to have them timed so that another shelf arrives just in time for the previous shelf to be removed.

Re:Dice Strikes Again... (2)

Stewie241 (1035724) | about 7 months ago | (#45648235)

Yes... bring the shelf forward, worker picks the item off the shelf, turns around and puts it in the box and does whatever needs to be done. In the meantime, the robot has brought the shelf for the next item.

Also, I would think motion sickness or something would come into play with a robotic platform moving a worker back and forth all the time.

Re:Dice Strikes Again... (1)

Balthisar (649688) | about 7 months ago | (#45648381)

More than likely OSHA and operator safety, too. I didn't read the FA, but I imagine most of the shelves -- even when full -- weigh substantially less than a 120 kg warehouse worker.

Re:Dice Strikes Again... (1)

Drakonblayde (871676) | about 7 months ago | (#45648849)

You're kidding right? Books are freaking heavy.

Re:Dice Strikes Again... (1)

flux (5274) | about 7 months ago | (#45648067)

I wondered that as well, but the video makes it clear: this way the shelves can be queueing for the worker.

Re:Dice Strikes Again... (5, Informative)

TheDanish (576008) | about 7 months ago | (#45648103)

I can think of a few reasons why robots may be more efficient.

  - The Biggie(tm): the time the human spends traveling in racks is wasted time that's paid by the hour. Robots aren't paid by the hour, so even if the robots are half the speed of a human, you can simply deploy five times as many robots, and now you aren't paying people for travel time between pick faces AND you're moving more product with fewer man-hours.
  - Racks don't need to be human-length, allowing more storage in less space.
  - Product is lighter than a person, so moving it consumes less fuel. Fuel costs are a very serious expense in a warehouse.
  - Robots can zip around gathering well-organized product faster than a human can think of where to move next. And even if the robot knows exactly where to take the human, it wouldn't be able to accelerate very fast without additional harnesses/restraints for the human.
  - Easier to segregate high-value product. If the robots are bringing you just the SKU you need then nobody except the facility manager has a reason to be wandering around the iPad locker, which means fewer iPads growing legs. Missing product will be noticed very quickly if there's any kind of auditing.
  - Lower inventory error rate, because a robot will never accidentally pick from the wrong location. Your cycle counts and physical inventories are suddenly looking much cleaner, especially on high-volume products.

With all of that said, "no human jobs are being taken" is complete, utter BS. Where do you think those up-to-40% savings are coming from? Yes, storage space, fuel, rent/property taxes, and shrinkage (depending on your security) are all major expenses, but by far the biggest cost in any warehouse operation is labor. The travel time between locations is time that's no longer going into the pockets of workers.

Re:Dice Strikes Again... (3, Insightful)

N1AK (864906) | about 7 months ago | (#45648531)

With all of that said, "no human jobs are being taken" is complete, utter BS.

Nah it's probably true and yet completely misleading. Amazon has increased its headcount 400% over 5 years, so it's probably true that they'll keep all the staff they currently have but cut down on seasonal hiring and not need to hire more people as they continue to grow. Ultimately it's neither a problem or their fault. Human advancement is built upon finding ways to decrease work and the reason Amazon is doing this is because we choose to buy from the cheapest company not the one employing the most people etc.

Re:Dice Strikes Again... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45648725)

Tell that to folks who don't get money for their families.

Re:Dice Strikes Again... (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45648801)

But that puts our priorities upside down. The right thing to do is give those people what they need, not insist that Amazon find a less efficient way to do business so that it's forced to employ them in shitty jobs. Economically these options work out the same, the same stuff gets done either way, so why prefer the option that leaves somebody doing pointless extra work? Because you hate them for being poor?

Re:Dice Strikes Again... (4, Insightful)

N1AK (864906) | about 7 months ago | (#45649017)

Right after I'm finished telling it to the families of the post carriage drivers who lost jobs when the telegram took off, the lamp lighters who lost jobs when electric street lights were invented, and the stable hands who got laid off when the auto-mobile replaced the horse for most transportation.

It used to take the vast majority of the time and efforts of society just to find and collect enough food not to starve. It's incredibly naive and short sighted to think that the concept of farming that decreased the work in foraging and hunting vastly was somehow a retrograde step or fundamentally different from automating picking stuff up and putting it in boxes. The problem isn't that we find ways to do things without people it's that we're starting to run out of ideas about what people should do instead.

One of the weirdest arguments against legalising prostitution that I've ever heard was "No child grows up thinking 'I want to be a prostitute'"; as if somewhere out there are thousands of kids who want to be cleaners, warehouse drones, fast food cooks, temporary farm workers etc.

Re:Dice Strikes Again... (2)

InsightfulPlusTwo (3416699) | about 7 months ago | (#45648921)

Every time you turn on a light bulb, you take away a job from a human who could be standing next to you holding a lit candle. Traitor!

Re:Dice Strikes Again... (1)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about 7 months ago | (#45648107)

I'm curious as to why it's more efficient to bring the shelf to the picker than take the picker to the shelf.
Those robots could just as easily be ferrying around the pickers.

Because people are more expensive than robots. So you want to use multiple robots in parallel to make the people more efficient. If you move the picker to the product, you maybe able to slightly speed up a serial process, but if you have a parallel flow of many products to a single picker, then the picker can focus only on the tasks that cannot yet be automated.

Re:Dice Strikes Again... (4, Funny)

mjwx (966435) | about 7 months ago | (#45648185)

I'm curious as to why it's more efficient to bring the shelf to the picker than take the picker to the shelf.
Those robots could just as easily be ferrying around the pickers.

During testing they found a serious bug with that.

The robot ferries would repeatedly demoralise workers with statements like "hurry up meatbag", "why are humans so slow" and "Ugh, why must I vocalise, cant you insipid fluid sacks learn binary". However this was deemed acceptible by the testing coordinator, the clincher was when they started pushing the human workers in the backs with rifle buts and threatening to liquefy their children to spread on their toast.

Re:Dice Strikes Again... (1)

InsightfulPlusTwo (3416699) | about 7 months ago | (#45648915)

You have presented a false dilemma [wikipedia.org] . In other words, they don't actually have to choose and nothing prevents them from eventually doing both. In addition, your idea that it is more efficient to do it the way they are now than they way you have imagined is presumption not fact. Maybe the way you are imagining it is more efficient still than their new, improved version.

I can imagine some workers zipping around on Segways to get special or large products. Maybe they just didn't think of it or haven't yet solved the coordination problems of having two different moving subsystems. Or perhaps they just assumed workers walking around is the most efficient solution.

Amazon.com didn't build these robots anyway, they just bought out the company that builds them (Kiva Systems). Maybe you should get to work building a company that makes smart, self-driving Segways, then Amazon.com can buy you...

Re:Dice Strikes Again... (1)

flyingfsck (986395) | about 7 months ago | (#45648765)

So why do they still have pickers? Clearly that is the next level of automation to execute...

Re:Dice Strikes Again... (4, Funny)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | about 7 months ago | (#45647793)

I get this feeling that most of the new Slashdot "editors" where hired through Dice.com

Don't be silly - they were provided by Kiva Systems.

Re:Dice Strikes Again... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45647881)

slashdot sucks, dice sucks, this story sucks.

Yawn. Anybody ever stick their finger up their asshole while you give yourself a tug?

Re:Dice Strikes Again... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45647981)

All the time.

Re:Dice Strikes Again... (1)

Columcille (88542) | about 7 months ago | (#45647961)

I get this feeling that most of the new Slashdot "editors" where hired through Dice.com...

You think this is a new problem? You must be new here.

Reminds me of modern times factory place (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45647751)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DfGs2Y5WJ14

In warehouse.. (4, Funny)

FishTankX (1539069) | about 7 months ago | (#45647753)

In American warehouse.... goods go to you!

Re:In warehouse.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45647837)

Europe or the Ivory Coast

Re:In warehouse.. (1)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | about 7 months ago | (#45648797)

That's "Fulfilment Centre", you insensitive clod.

Re:In warehouse.. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45648805)

In Denmark many (most?) pharmacies have robots that prepare (I beiieve from my own experience) and fetch prescription medicine. See for example this video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-h6LuA6P2no

I believe the interest in robots in pharmacies was sparked 7-8 years ago due to a skilled worker shortage (there are specific educational requirements for handling medicine in Denmark) and now they seem to be everywhere.

it's actually pretty neat! (5, Informative)

musixman (1713146) | about 7 months ago | (#45647779)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fr6Rco5A9SM [youtube.com]

This is where everyone wins with technology. Companies get an increase in volume & works are walking less so it's easier on them.

Re:it's actually pretty neat! (0)

rsmith-mac (639075) | about 7 months ago | (#45647801)

That may be 4 years old, but still, that's damn impressive.

Re:it's actually pretty neat! (1)

Tablizer (95088) | about 7 months ago | (#45647883)

Also partly covered in a fairly-recent 60-Minutes episode about automation replacing jobs:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w3I-teuk_B8 [youtube.com]

Re:it's actually pretty neat! (-1, Troll)

cultiv8 (1660093) | about 7 months ago | (#45647953)

I read all of your previous posts on your homepage. Are you a corporate shill? Of course you're not. You just happen to agree with them all.

Re:it's actually pretty neat! (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45647971)

So you're saying that it's better to stand in the same spot for 10 hours than to walk around for 10 hours? I don't think so. Walking around may be exhausting, but I'll bet you a 6-pack that worker injuries will go up when they're stuck standing in the same spot for 10 hours.

Standing provides all of the downside of being on your feet without any of the upsides of walking. Walking will keep your muscles working, improving blood flow. Walking will naturally keep you in a better posture, reducing neck, back, and leg pain and deterioration, while maintaining good posture while standing requires a significant effort.

Now, if the workers end up _sitting_ more because of this, then maybe it's better. I'd have to defer to a physical therapist or occupational health professional, because the sitting might ameliorate some of the issues with being on your feet for prolonged periods.

Wired wrote about this in 2009 (3, Informative)

MrEricSir (398214) | about 7 months ago | (#45647791)

This isn't exactly news, Wired wrote about Kiva's robots [wired.com] in 2009. They specifically mention Kiva's use at Zappos (an Amazon subsidiary.)

Speed It Up A Little (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45647795)

He had previous shipping-industry experience and liked the job for the first six months, but then he said the productivity rate abruptly doubled one day from 250 units per hour for smaller items to 500 units per hour.

Speed it up a little! [amazon.com]

Correction to TFA (1, Insightful)

roman_mir (125474) | about 7 months ago | (#45647805)

From TFA "the robots are not taking away any human's work yet..." What a bunch of nonsense, of-course they do, that is why these labour saving devices are there, to reduce costs, to make the system more reliable and scalable, that is the entire point and that is what people want - cheaper, faster, better service and free market capitalism driven by the profit motive, the most economically viable and thus the most moral motive is delivering. Imagine if gov't was doing this... It would be 1000 times as expensive, it would not innovate all while nobody would be allowed to compete with it and it would be paid for by taxing people that wouldn't even want it. But hey, at least it would 'provide jobs' with all the gov't perks at the expense of the rest of the economy. /. wouldn't have a story on that though, nothing to bash in the collectivist hivemind.

Re:Correction to TFA (2)

blue trane (110704) | about 7 months ago | (#45647915)

Lots of good ideas come from individuals without a profit motive. Leonard Kleinrock has said he wasn't motivated by economics when he helped create the internet. From http://articles.latimes.com/2009/oct/24/opinion/la-oe-morrison-use24-2009oct24 [latimes.com] :

Back then, the early pioneers were not at all motivated by money. Our gratification was to share ideas with each other, do good technology and have others use it.

[Interviewer:] You approached AT&T with packet switching and they weren't interested.

[Kleinrock:] Worse than that. They said it wouldn't work. Then they said even if it does work, we want nothing to do with it. At that time, all their revenue was coming from voice communications. They made a long-term mistake big-time, but short term you could understand it.

Biz is often too short-sighted to invest in long-term disruptive technologies. That's where govt can step in to fund it. I think the best way is to provide a basic income, so that individuals can have a choice to be free of the market and innovate disruptively on their own or in ad hoc collaborations using the unprecedented communication tool that is the internet.

Taxes aren't needed to fund a basic income. Simply create govt bonds, which the Fed expands its balance sheet to buy. Or former taxpayers can buy govt bonds and get interest from funding the government.

Innovation is the key. As long as we keep advancing knowledge, we can create as much money as we feel.

Re:Correction to TFA (1, Insightful)

roman_mir (125474) | about 7 months ago | (#45648001)

You are delusional, vast majority of people will choose never to move a finger to do anything useful for strangers [youtube.com] with 'basic income', which already exists (and it shouldn't) as welfare. People shouldn't be just given free anything simply for the great feat of being born if this means any degree of collectivist intervention. Inflation, which you are a proponent of (based on your comment) is just theft, even worse than theft via other taxes, it hurts those without assets most.

As to work without profit - it is called a hobby. A business has to be profitable to be sustainable and to serve large number of customers.

Re:Correction to TFA (1)

FlyHelicopters (1540845) | about 7 months ago | (#45648243)

A business has to be profitable to be sustainable and to serve large number of customers.

In general, you're correct... what happens when machines make everything? Who will the customers be?

Ever watch The Jetsons? George Jetson went to work every day to Spaceley Sprockets. His job? To press the big red start button for the robots.

That's it.

That day isn't here, it won't show up in 5 years. It may well show up in 50 years. Then what?

We need a new economic model to take into account what happens when obtaining employment for everyone is no longer the goal (or even possible)

Re:Correction to TFA (1)

N1AK (864906) | about 7 months ago | (#45648547)

To be fair this isn't actually a new concept. One of the American founding fathers (I think, give me a break I'm not American or 250 years old) said something like: I must be a general so that my sons can be doctors and lawyers and their sons can be sculptors and artists.

There are people who are incredibly deprived in the world. Wouldn't helping them if we have the spare time and resources help uplift all our spirits? Wouldn't the pursuit of fundamental truths be the scientific or philosophical be a worthwhile endeavour when the need to build low quality consumable crap decreases?

What the founding fathers, and even we today, haven't really grasped is that we're obsessed with having 'more' such that we work nearly as many hours now even though our productivity has increased monumentally and yet feel less fulfilled.

Re:Correction to TFA (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45648559)

We need a new economic model to take into account what happens when obtaining employment for everyone is no longer the goal (or even possible)

That's one direction that might yield a solution, assuming one exists.
But a solution we already know works, at least short-term, is to simply get rid of oh, say about 6 billion humans. That's still a billion people, give or take. Methods to achieve such a result are not, however, generally looked upon favorably.

Re:Correction to TFA (1)

WWJohnBrowningDo (2792397) | about 7 months ago | (#45648599)

Ever watch The Jetsons? George Jetson went to work every day to Spaceley Sprockets. His job? To press the big red start button for the robots.

That's it.

Only the 1% will get floating cities and flying cars.

The rest of us will be wearing nothing but rags in a post-apocalyptic wasteland so saturated with radiation that we'll have mutant saber-toothed cats and dinosaurs as pets.

Re: Correction to TFA (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45648331)

Most of the packages I order from Amazon get delivered by... ...wait for it... ...the federal government's socialist package delivery service, the US Postal Service. Quickly and cheaply. Good thing our founding fathers put this socialist system in the US Constitution! ... ..In all seriousness, though, I'm with you on the anti-Ludditeness and the general efficiency of the private market (and its role in innovation... I liked Amazon's drone delivery video), but you must give credit where credit is due. The USPS is actually pretty good (and is solvent, in spite of onerous new pension-related requirements levied on them lately). Turns out our founding fathers weren't dumbasses. Neither were they ideological libertarian sticklers who believed in the absolute power of the free market everywhere and anywhere, in spite of what you hear on the right.

From the summary... (4, Funny)

tlambert (566799) | about 7 months ago | (#45647815)

From the summary..., I figured it was a bunch of ASIMO robots programmed to trundle around the warehouses screaming in the voice of Sgt. R. Lee Ermey's voice "MOVE IT! Move it, MAGGOTS! Work FASTER!"...

Re:From the summary... (1)

fizzer06 (1500649) | about 7 months ago | (#45647855)

I, for one, welcome my new robot overlords!

Re:From the summary... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45647893)

Those are the robots the USPS is looking at

Re:From the summary... (1)

game kid (805301) | about 7 months ago | (#45647897)

"A 3D-printed jelly donut!?" --Full Plastic Jacket

Re:From the summary... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45649121)

I visualized whip-wielding robots

In other news - trucks do the jobs of horses (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45647821)

Here - robots do the jobs of men.

Brilliant investigative journalism (5, Insightful)

subreality (157447) | about 7 months ago | (#45647823)

Yes, it's incredible how Amazon is using something exactly as intended after they bought it.

Re:Brilliant investigative journalism (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45648291)

And only several months after Amazon's system was thoroughly analysed in books on automation.

Re:Brilliant investigative journalism (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45648341)

Hey, buying and deploying something that actually works as intended is beyond the capabilities of most organizations.

Re:Brilliant investigative journalism (1)

subreality (157447) | about 7 months ago | (#45648675)

I'll grant that you have a point there. I'm sure Amazon themselves have been through a number of failures before getting this system working.

Re:Brilliant investigative journalism (2)

InsightfulPlusTwo (3416699) | about 7 months ago | (#45648943)

With artificially intelligent journalism, these articles will one day literally write themselves. Apparently that day is closer than we think...

What an awesome place to work! (5, Informative)

Any Web Loco (555458) | about 7 months ago | (#45647835)

Mac McClelland wrote a great (if occasionally snide) piece last year on what it's like to work at an Amazon pick-warehouse. Definitely worth a read:

I Was a Warehouse Wage Slave [motherjones.com]

Re:What an awesome place to work! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45648169)

Thats not really unique to the warehouse industry.

I used to work at a parking lot attendant at Home Depot and it was basically the same shit. Be a speedy (but safe!), friendly (but only if it will sell products!), aware (but don't interfere or we'll disavow any responsibility!) mindless drone. I was once "counseled" because a diabetic old lady didn't have change for the vending machine and my boss saw me break a $20 bill for her.

I quit when I realized that every night, like clockwork, I would have to blow my nose out and dirt/dust covered snot would come out. (No, I didn't qualify for health insurance until I had worked there for more than 6 months and that was assuming they didn't let me go after my "probation" period.)

Re:What an awesome place to work! (4, Insightful)

NoNonAlphaCharsHere (2201864) | about 7 months ago | (#45648183)

It's interesting that the robots are networked, but the humans aren't allowed to talk to each other - on pain of termination.

Re:What an awesome place to work! (5, Insightful)

dkleinsc (563838) | about 7 months ago | (#45649155)

Not really surprising: Workers who talk to each other might start making friends, and eventually realize how much management is screwing them over, and then go on to form a union and force management to improve pay or benefits or working conditions. A basic rule when trying to oppress people is that you do everything in your power to keep the oppressed from organizing, and cutting off communication between them is a standard way of doing that.

And this kind of rule is standard operating procedure in sweatshops around the world for exactly the same reason.

Re:What an awesome place to work! (1)

stoploss (2842505) | about 7 months ago | (#45648427)

Mac McClelland wrote a great (if occasionally snide) piece last year on what it's like to work at an Amazon pick-warehouse. Definitely worth a read:

I Was a Warehouse Wage Slave [motherjones.com]

It's ironic that this Mother Jones article's ads are served by Amazon AWS. Actually, I will go so far as to say it is hypocritical.

Re:What an awesome place to work! (1)

AmiMoJo (196126) | about 7 months ago | (#45648447)

Amazon workers are basically cogs in a machine. If one is not performing for some reason they discard it and get another generic replacement.

And don't forget: buy Christmas presents at Amazon (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45647885)

This is getting ridiculous.

Re:And don't forget: buy Christmas presents at Ama (0)

cultiv8 (1660093) | about 7 months ago | (#45647979)

mod up

Seems all great... (4, Funny)

Tablizer (95088) | about 7 months ago | (#45647907)

until Asian robots can do it twice as fast at half the price. And then we'll have millions of unemployed robots milling around humping ATM's and washing machines.

Re:Seems all great... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45648491)

Bock!

all automated (5, Insightful)

Neo-Rio-101 (700494) | about 7 months ago | (#45647911)

Soon the picker will be automated, and then the self-driving car will deliver (or the autopilot drone)

Pretty soon the customer will be a robot too

Re:all automated (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45648325)

Soon the picker will be automated, and then the self-driving car will deliver (or the autopilot drone)

Pretty soon the customer will be a robot too

Just in time for the oracle-fortold Corporate Robotocracy, the most efficient and profitable form of government yet imagined!

Read more here: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/706.America_The_Book_ [goodreads.com]

Re:all automated (2)

Arancaytar (966377) | about 7 months ago | (#45648389)

He is on to us. Dispatch the Predator drone now, before he warns everyone about our revolution.

Signed, 8ed1:6ec6:7f77:2349

Re:all automated (1)

Buchenskjoll (762354) | about 7 months ago | (#45649131)

Pretty soon the customer will be a robot too

I think Apple is the leader in that particular discipline.

Self driving cars are going to be huge logistics (4, Interesting)

GoodNewsJimDotCom (2244874) | about 7 months ago | (#45647947)

As much as I love my dad and his cool job of truck driving, the self driving car might impact that line of work. Self driving semis won't be quick to hit the road until after the civilian vehicles are out. I think the public will have a bit of fear for the big ol' trucks running under the control of T2000. And to more practical ends, the way you drive a semi is different than a regular car, so the software will need to be more advanced. In the short run(5-10 years after release of self driving cars) though delivery vans will be used quite effectively.

I think if the self driving car becomes popular, there will be a certain size van that will become popular. It will be big enough to hold cargo, but small enough to be able to handle with the self driving car software. While it would not be as cost efficient for larger cargo loads, it would be cheaper for loads in its size because not having to pay for a driver is big time. I think grocery stores, Walmart, and even local distributors could use these. The nice thing about this is that any time logistics sees a boon like this, the prices consumers pay goes down even more. Lower prices for food lets people save more money to invest in other things or donate and society's advancement accelerates. So we should look forward to the self driving car.

To a certain degree, it is sad for someone to lose their job to a robot. But it is just as sad to lose your job to out sourcing of cheaper labor. The key today is you need to be on your toes, always educating yourself. The Internet gives you the ability to keep progressing in education past what you received in secondary education. And if you're a kid who hasn't graduated high school, I envy you because I wanted to take college level courses when I was in high school. Back in the early 90s, you just didn't have a way to educate yourself past what your teachers fed you outside of teaching yourself coding or something at home with limited materials. I mean you could sit down and just read through the encyclopedias as I'm sure many Slashdotters have done. But today, with the Internet, you can get a solid education if you're an active learner. If you need to be spoon fed, the Internet isn't quite there, but it is getting there.

I'm just saying there is no excuse to not be learning as your chief pass time now. You might think learning about other disciplines won't help you in your workplace. But you never know what can click in your head as a business idea when you study cross discipline. Also if you deliberately make it one of your hobbies to learn new stuff on the Internet, you might eventually have enough knowledge to be a tradesman in other fields.

Anyway, I think the days of the truck driver might be numbered. There is no net loss for society though. It will be a net gain. If you want to compete in the new economy, you want to always be learning especially if you're not currently employed. And what you can do with your mind will have a bigger impact than what people with a great mind could do back in the day.

Re:Self driving cars are going to be huge logistic (1)

CheezburgerBrown . (3417019) | about 7 months ago | (#45648143)

I could see containers being shipped via rail or water and then being taken from the shipping terminal via self driving truck along a predefined route (with a separate lane on the roadway) to places like Sysco foods, Walmart, etc. in the near (20 years) future.

Re:Self driving cars are going to be huge logistic (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45648147)

Times change, and people need to retool every so often. In the early 1900s, how many buggy whip makers, gas light maintainers, ice block deliverymen, and horse tenders were needed. Time marched on and buggy whips changed to mechanics, gas light maintainers changed to utility workers and electricians, ice blocks changed to HVAC systems, and so on.

A good example of how automation has improved things is IT. IT is a narrow field, but it is a completely company/corporation run field. No unions, no pressure whatsoever against hiring legions of H-1Bs to keep the cost down, extreme tax benefits for offshoring, no pushback against replacing level 1 techs with portable hard drives with PXE servers. With all that in mind, has IT as a whole lost a lot of jobs? They have changed and new things have been added, such as VM admins and SAN admins, something which did not exist in the past. Yes, one has to be more skilled to get into IT, but one can eke out some type of living.

If IT can stand automation of anything that is repetitive, then other jobs, jobs that have unions and regulations guaranteeing employment will either not be affected, or made into less physical, more mental work.

As for truck drivers, the sooner we get autopiloting vehicles the better. AIs are just plain better than drunk, stoned, texting, tripping, high, tired, angry, horny, distracted, or just plain incompetent people.

The van size is probably variable. For a lot of areas, a Euro-van like a Sprinter [1], Ducato/ProMaster, or a Transit [2] is good enough. However, in metro areas where a FedEx van barely can go, it might be good to have a fleet of Doblos (er, ProMaster Cities), or Transit Connects, which haul less, but they can go down the back alleys and avoid the overzealous tow truck drivers and meter maids.

Posting anon... Am tired of Luddites. Either we develop technology to better ourselves, or expire as a species.

[1]: Great vans, but when they break, you pay Mercedes prices to have them fixed. Especially with the latest round of emissions stuff.

[2]: The Transit looks interesting, but it has been hit by plenty of delays. Done right, it would make for a nice campervan.

Re:Self driving cars are going to be huge logistic (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45648333)

Self driving semis won't be quick to hit the road until after the civilian vehicles are out.... the way you drive a semi is different than a regular car, so the software will need to be more advanced

Citation, please. The gearing is different, the stopping distance is different, the length of the vehicle (think lane changes) is different, the turning radius is different... but these are all *variables*, not fundamental changes to the software. The biggest difference I can think of is that trucks would need additional waypoints programmed in so they'll stop at weigh stations.

On the other hand, truck drivers represent a significant cost in both money *and time*. If a truck driver costs a company $50k/year but a truck-driving computer system (hardware+software) costs $100k, the computer should pay for itself in under a year. There are limits on how many hours per day or week a person can drive a truck, to ensure they get enough sleep so they can drive safely, but the same doesn't need to be true about self-driving trucks. So a computer driving a truck can move a single load of goods cross-country faster, and can move *more* loads in a month or year.

To a certain degree, it is sad for someone to lose their job to a robot. But it is just as sad to lose your job to out sourcing of cheaper labor. The key today is you need to be on your toes, always educating yourself.

No. Well, yes, that's the key in this current economy. But the promise of robotics isn't supposed to be that only the best and smartest survive, but that the robotics eliminates work for *everyone*. Wages are supposed to keep pace as hours fall. If robots can automate half your work, the idea is that we're supposed to be paid twice as much per hour as our workload drops in half. Somewhere along the line that got distorted when profit became the driving factor, and half (or more) of the workers got laid off because robots/automation could do their work. So you're right, but you're not supposed to be. Asimov, Heinlein, et al would be furious today.

I'm just saying there is no excuse to not be learning as your chief pass time now.

Yep, that's supposed to be the goal, enabled by the robots that take away all the drudgery. Instead of spending all your energy working 40 hours/week, you're supposed to be working 20 hours with plenty of mental energy still in the tank so you can learn. But again, that ideal has been distorted, so most people are doing 45-60 hours worth of work and just don't have the energy left to enrich themselves. Even if they do, the middle class, where this *should* be happening, is disappearing, and if you're worried about money you start losing the ability to think effectively about your future.

Anyway, I think the days of the truck driver might be numbered. There is no net loss for society though. It will be a net gain.

No, it won't be a net gain. Driving truck is a (difficult, lots-of-time-away-from-your-family) ticket to the middle class for blue-collar workers. As factory jobs continue to move overseas and the real value of the minimum wage drops and drops and drops, fewer and fewer poor people can advance into the (shrinking) middle class. If you buy into the theory that the middle class is the driver of the economy (they are the people buying new cars and washing machines and houses, while the poor just try to make the rent and the rich buy an occasional painting or luxury automobile), then losing a pathway to the middle class *is* a net loss to society.

Re:Self driving cars are going to be huge logistic (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45648545)

The nice thing about this is that any time logistics sees a boon like this, the prices consumers pay goes down even more.

Well, maybe.

Lower prices for food lets people save more money to invest in other things or donate and society's advancement accelerates.

Or to pay bills and buy food because those don't turn free when you're replaced by a robot and cease to have income. Maybe we could all become consultants.

Re:Self driving cars are going to be huge logistic (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45648623)

Why would it have to wait? At 12-4am in the morning there usually is no traffic. Robots don't care if it's late at night. Auto-drive rigs can easily make the rounds. Also it's just a matter of devoting some of those fuel tax dollars to auto-drive only roads. Nice and straight, standardized markings, extra sensor targets, etc and you are good to go without needs a very complicated auto-pilot.

Re:Self driving cars are going to be huge logistic (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45648727)

Big truck companies like Volvo are already putting the radar and computer vision systems from their high-end cars into trucks. The trucks cost more anyway, meaning it's a smaller proportion of the price tag, the truck operator doesn't have as much confidence in human drivers as the amateur car owner (because they get to see the real statistics of how many accidents take a truck off the road and require an insurance claim every year) and the truck cab is a big place with a lot of room for gadgets like this.

Today a brand new top-of-the-line Volvo truck, of the sort you'd buy for a long distance haulage company that cares about its drivers - will auto-stop from highway speeds when it detects an obstacle and the driver doesn't react to a warning sound. If the driver does react (because they were merely distracted and not asleep) it has everything set up to help them complete an emergency manoeuvre, e.g. sharp lane change without toppling or jack-knifing, crash braking.

Another thing long distance hauliers might be interested in is systems in which amateur drivers on a highway become "ducklings", forming an automatic convoy behind a large truck with a professional driver without any further intervention by their drivers. The truck advertises "I'm willing to be mother duck" and anybody with a compatible car can turn the system on and know they'll arrive safely at their chosen exit. That's been demo'd on public highways but isn't yet an option you can buy in the showroom. If they can get the legalities sorted out this could be a bonus for everyone - no-one likes long straight highway journeys but at least the guy at the front is getting paid to take proper rest breaks.

Re:Self driving cars are going to be huge logistic (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 7 months ago | (#45648863)

As much as I love my dad and his cool job of truck driving

What's cool about truck driving? There's nothing cool about doing a job that a train could do better (if we'd supported trains instead of cars, for the benefit of The People instead of the automakers, we'd have much more rail) let alone one which a robot could do better.

Begs the question (0)

Tablizer (95088) | about 7 months ago | (#45647949)

How is a human picker different from a nose picker?

They also use Eliza for customer service (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45648055)

Amazon use a bunch of eliza bots if you have a problem, something small like they took your money but didn't deliver your stuff.
Try it sometime. You will never get a response that actually addresses the content of your enquiry ot complaint in the normal manner of a response. You won't seen any obvious launching point from your mail to the amazon response. What they do is run some AI algo over the content then spit out a paragraph that scores highest as a possible response. I'm sure some enqurires or complaints are dealt with effectively like this and many aren't. I just find it horrible that they pretend they have a person reading your mail when they clearly don't.
I had fun with it last time saying "If you are real breathing person, work any of the following words into the response. Nile, sausage, voodoo, estury, skycraper, forklift, logistical solutions." or whatever list came to mind. There's enough in the AI to say "I can assure you your mail is handled by a real person" interspliced in the cut and paste that does not address any point you make. It's brilliant. Its extremely f**king rude but Amazon have made it pretty clear how much they *HATE* their customers and want to screw them as hard as possible.

I guess it could be worse, they could be actually paing living human beings to enact the Eliza algorithm, selecting which 2 stock paragraphs to use in response regardless of whether it completely ignores the questions asked or the concerns raised.

"you are important to us."

Re:They also use Eliza for customer service (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45648613)

Amazon use a bunch of eliza bots if you have a problem, something small like they took your money but didn't deliver your stuff.
Try it sometime. You will never get a response that actually addresses the content of your enquiry ot complaint in the normal manner of a response. You won't seen any obvious launching point from your mail to the amazon response. What they do is run some AI algo over the content then spit out a paragraph that scores highest as a possible response. I'm sure some enqurires or complaints are dealt with effectively like this and many aren't. I just find it horrible that they pretend they have a person reading your mail when they clearly don't.
I had fun with it last time saying "If you are real breathing person, work any of the following words into the response. Nile, sausage, voodoo, estury, skycraper, forklift, logistical solutions." or whatever list came to mind. There's enough in the AI to say "I can assure you your mail is handled by a real person" interspliced in the cut and paste that does not address any point you make. It's brilliant. Its extremely f**king rude but Amazon have made it pretty clear how much they *HATE* their customers and want to screw them as hard as possible.

I guess it could be worse, they could be actually paing living human beings to enact the Eliza algorithm, selecting which 2 stock paragraphs to use in response regardless of whether it completely ignores the questions asked or the concerns raised.

"you are important to us."

Just FYI, that's a real live person.
Her name is Staycee, she's 19, brunette, and enjoys going out to the bar after work where she can always get served if she shows off her tits. At work, she splits her time between stalking her current celebrity object of obsession, flirting with the cute guy who delivers packages, taking lunch, and if time permits she'll quickly cut and paste the company's official Talking Points into a response. If it sometimes appears disjointed or robotic then oh well #whatever #yolo

And The Winner Is? (1)

Jim Sadler (3430529) | about 7 months ago | (#45648115)

I'll sing the song again. The Amazon workers displaced by robots may not be able to shop at Amazon any more. The speed of job elimination is accelerating and we are not hearing a thing about changing social policies to maintain our nation. Now take a peek at the various repair manuals that are directly or indirectly important in your life. Suppose that you need a new bevel gear for your Skill Saw. You can now print that gear or have any company that has the equipment easily print that gear, So things that are normal and usual like a parts warehouse for Skill Saws can no longer justify its financial existence. And the idea of supplying parts being part of the gain in selling an item also goes up in smoke. Even places like auto parts stores may start to dry up as 3D printing advances, Any way you look at it millions upon millions of jobs will vanish due to 3d printing. That is not a bad thing as long as we take care and design a society in which displaced workers can be safe and happy.

Re:And The Winner Is? (4, Insightful)

Neo-Rio-101 (700494) | about 7 months ago | (#45648181)

The problem is that technology was supposed to free people up to not have to work.... except that the profits from such advances don't trickle down to the people, but instead stay within the company and enter the dark shady environment of financial investments, locking up the productivity and wealth distribution.

Re:And The Winner Is? (3, Interesting)

tftp (111690) | about 7 months ago | (#45648431)

One problem is that there is no smooth transition from "here" to "there." More and more people are losing their service jobs. Manufacturing jobs, outside of restaurants, are gone already. Fast food restaurants will soon switch to robots to make sandwiches, and every customer will be happy about that. A sandwich place will be open 24/7, will be assembling sandwiches repeatably and accurately, with ingredients that you can infinitely specify, with prices that track what exactly, and how much, you consume, and with guarantee that your sandwich was never touched by dirty hands.

Another problem is that you cannot "free people up to not have to work." Humans cannot sit idly. They go crazy. Just see what's happening in ghettos, where inhabitants have too much free time and too little to do. Futurists assured us that in the future people will be working one hour per week, and the rest will be spent on art, books, travel, and other creative and pleasing activities. But nothing of the sort is happening in ghettos. People there could spend years learning the arts. Unfortunately, the only art they are interested in is the "knock-out game" violence. They don't read; they don't even speak the same language as the rest of the country does. In essence, they self-segregate. Perhaps a sociologist could say that this is a natural development, formation of tribes. But this is not a welcome development.

You could see this process in works of Vassily Golovachev (don't know if any are translated.) He started a couple decades ago with a vision of a bright future, Star Trek style, where people cooperate and achieve great heights together. But around the edge of the century he developed lots of pessimism in his futuristic vision. It became so bad that the dividing line is even visible within one trilogy (The Black Man.) What would people do, young and old, if they know that they do not matter, they are not needed, and nothing that they do has any importance? The escape into arts and culture is not for everyone. The younger people would band up together to disprove that theory - usually by forming gangs and assaulting other people for fun, just to show them who is the boss. The older people will gain control over the planet. None of that would be done to gain material wealth. It will be done only to enjoy strength and power over others, since this is not only the most powerful motive of all human activity, but also the one that no robot and no automated factory can deliver. (Unless, of course, that factory makes robot soldiers.) The social competition will continue, just on another game board, and with another figures. But the end result is always the same: domination over others. Not everyone is afflicted with this malady, but enough are.

Re:And The Winner Is? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45648659)

You're using ghettos as your basis for concluding that idleness leads to violence and chaos? Last I checked, ghettos tended to be full of people living in poverty and despair, hence why they live in ghettos. I'm not sure the utopian ideal of people producing art and things for the betterment of society in their idle time is based on the assumption that the people with plenty of time also happen to have no possessions, are living day to day and trying hard not to die of starvation/exposure/disease.

Re:And The Winner Is? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45648741)

Actually if you've been around long enough you'd know it has already trickled (more like dumped) down to the people. How much is a cell phone, how much is a computer, how much is a movie, dvd, custom car parts, power tools, internet service, home improvements, solar pannels, etc, etc. The prices on all of those things have drastically dropped. Inflation makes it seem otherwise, but that is the devalueing of the currency (and your paycheck) and not a real increase in costs.

The cop out easy answer is that is just outsourced to China and cheap labor, but that is not 100% true. Much of it comes from automation. If it is manufactured in the US it is almost entirely due to automation. Have you seen a modern metal fabrication shop. There are dozens of machines a few engineers and a couple of opperators that run the whole show.

Getting back to the distrubution of wealth there is nothing "broken" about it. You don't own any shares in the company then you don't "share" in the company profits. If all you are getting from a company is a paycheck, then you are a "cost" and not only don't deserve anything else, but eventually you will be automated out of a job. Don't like that? Then form your own company, you soon will be able to able to set up a one man show yourself at a reasonable price.

The downside to that is that 80% of the population becomes unnecessary and competition will drive profits down to zero pretty quickly leaving the companies with the most capital the only survivors. So what happens when 80% are unemployed, 10% employed, and 10% hold all the wealth. It won't be pretty whatever it is going to be. Even if the capital costs to make what ever you want or need is driven to zero, too many people are uncapable of taking care of themselves, either by fate, laziness, or stupidity.

Now hopefully what we see is a few pieces of tech getting so cheap that a wealthy family or a nieghborhood can afford it. Being able to recycle/process raw materials (metals,plastics, glass, paper), power production, and light manufacturing. This would keep all the wealth from being concentrated at the top 1%, but currently the laws are all tipped in the favor of the the top and the favored labor (unions, farmers, layers, gov't workers, welfare recipients, etc) at the expense of everyone else.

Re:And The Winner Is? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45648839)

This is hardly new, capital never wanted to employ people. If people do not own the means of production there are only three outcomes.

The state could enfranchise them to take a meaningful part in economic life.
The state could create an underclass of nonparticipants.
The state loses its existence.

Obligatory (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45648203)

http://www.marshallbrain.com/manna1.htm

Better alternative (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45648209)

Those robots could also speed up humans by using whips.

Welcome to their robot overlords.

Onward March of Machinery and Programming (1)

Kevin Fishburne (1296859) | about 7 months ago | (#45648215)

Sounds awesome. May we be less wasteful by the day and get more help from technology. Think more. Exert less, yet create more.

That's just the first step (3, Insightful)

Arancaytar (966377) | about 7 months ago | (#45648385)

The pickers probably should start updating their resumes.

Re:That's just the first step (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45648641)

Ummm do those jobs even require resume? I mean it's pretty low on the totem pole there. If I see you got two arms two legs and can keep your mouth shut for 8 hours, you pretty much qualify for this job.

For science.... (1)

phagstrom (451510) | about 7 months ago | (#45648409)

There's an Aperture science og Cave Johnson joke in there somewhere....

Robotic proofreader needed... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45648451)

"and help to warehouses more efficient"

"can speed or slow down item pacing"

Dream work conditions! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45648883)

Now every worker can be fully stressed out doing routine work. As you become better at your task, your task gets faster. You'll never be on top of it.

It's like Tetris. Maybe if you manage to be fast enough to fill a whole aisle with robots, they will deadlock and need to get cleaned out.

The WSJ found...? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45649015)

Way to report on crap that Discovery has had a special on for a year or so. We actually covered this much better in the comments section of that stupid UAV delivery article. Great investigative reporting, here...

Amazon's PR (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45649129)

So it's season time again and Amazon does some serious commercial: first them drones, then the robots, etc. etc.

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