back to article Amazon shows off robot warehouse workers that won't complain, quit, unionize...

Amazon unveiled its first "fully autonomous mobile robot" and other machines designed to operate alongside human workers at its warehouses. In 2012 the e-commerce giant acquired Kiva Systems, a robotics startup, for $775 million. Now, following on from that, Amazon has revealed multiple prototypes powered by AI and computer- …

  1. This post has been deleted by its author

  2. Mike Lewis

    In the future...

    These might be known as Amazon's halcyon days between hiring workers who complain and robots with AI who complain.

  3. Vir_Floridanus

    Delicate balancing act

    Uum, what happens if someone stacks all the toilet paper on one side of the rack and all the bowling balls on the other side?

    1. Korev Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Delicate balancing act

      Then they'll loo roll over...

  4. HildyJ Silver badge
    Devil

    Not a binary decision

    Of course they will still need workers - suits, supervisors, and robot repair techs (for now).

    It's the pesky minimum wage workers they will replace.

  5. elsergiovolador Silver badge

    Yin and Yang

    Now that we have the Yin component - robots doing all the work, we should start working on Yang - the robots that will be buying all this crap that is being made.

    Then we could fully get ourselves detached from this nonsense.

    1. Joe W Silver badge

      Re: Yin and Yang

      Like hooking up an Electric Monk to a VCR?

    2. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Re: Yin and Yang

      You can detach yourself from Amazon by refusing to buy anything from that [redacted] company.

      Bezos can suck on this for all I'm concerned... [see icon]

    3. DubyaG
      Coat

      Re: Yin and Yang

      Ah! The Midas Plague. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Midas_World

  6. brainwrong

    Injuries

    Sound like they'll expect staff to just stand bolt upright all day, not moving at all. That won't be better for peoples bodies than doing the same twisting and bending motions all day.

    What would be better was if staff were able to move in lots of different ways, lifting to different heights and working in different positions.

    1. DS999 Silver badge

      Re: Injuries

      Sound like they'll expect staff to just stand bolt upright all day, not moving at all

      So like most people with computer/office jobs then? Actually better than them, since the office workers are sitting all day.

  7. Auntie Dix
    Alien

    "The Invaders" Red Glow

    "The robot shines a beam of green light to navigate, stopping if it detects something or someone blocking its path..."

    ...and then firing the laser to vaporize at Low (rodent), Medium (slow-moving employee), or High (union organizer).

    1. Vir_Floridanus

      Re: "The Invaders" Red Glow

      I just ordered my Acme EMP cannon, I’m not going to be a part of the sixth mass extinction. I’ll be ready in case they become self-aware and try to subjugate us humans.

    2. DS999 Silver badge

      Re: "The Invaders" Red Glow

      firing the laser to vaporize at Low (rodent), Medium (slow-moving employee)

      You obviously have no management experience. You don't vaporize slow moving employees, you just zap them hard enough so the pain makes them move more quickly but without creating so much pain they are unable to move more quickly. Would be the best management tool for employee motivation since the bullwhip was banned.

      The trick is tuning how hard to hit each employee with the laser, since different people have different pain tolerances. Fortunately Amazon has Alexa, its AI technology using machine learning adjusting the amount of zap could over time insure each employee gets the optimal amount of pain to get the fastest work performance they are capable of.

      When it all gets too much for them and they become immune to the motivational use of lasers, THAT'S when you vaporize them.

      You can trust me, I have an MBA.

      1. Flywheel Silver badge
        Terminator

        Re: "The Invaders" Red Glow

        > tuning how hard to hit each employee with the laser

        In the near future, Amazon associates will be required to have a QR code tattooed on their ankles to ensure that the robots don't have to twist and turn too much...

      2. Auntie Dix
        Alien

        Re: "The Invaders" Red Glow

        You are absolutely right about modern management's "motivational," limits-pushing, stepwise torture, AKA "Workforce Management" ("WFM"):

        "Your agonizer, please." — Evil Mr. Spock [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WIee7DIDL-8&t=94]

        However, Amazon has always eschewed prolonged engagement:

        "Jeff Bezos once believed insists that Amazon's low-skill worker churn was is a good thing The Final Solution, as a long-term workforce would mean a 'march to mediocrity.' cohere and fight back en masse successfully." ("Amazon Fears It Could Run Out of U.S. Warehouse Workers by 2024" [https://www.theregister.com/2022/06/22/amazon_labor_pool_shortage/])

        Carrot ► Stick ► Knife ► Next!

        "Terror must be maintained, or the empire is doomed." — Evil Mr. Spock

  8. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge
    Terminator

    Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

    Manager: Raise the voltage.

    Tech: Sir, they're at their limit and they need maintenance. I can smell them burning.

    Manager: Raise the voltage!

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    reduce the risk of injuries for workers

    absolutely, by 100%! Also, in a by- or end-process, reduce the risk of litigation, compensation, bad-PR, never mind piss-breaks, pregnancy-breaks and STRIKES, that have been the bane of any true capitalist and business owner since day one. The ultimate victory is near, comrade-capitalists, just one more push and we'll be there!

    Trade unions: there's this cloud-based firmware patch...

  10. nematoad Silver badge

    It's a start.

    "Speculation was rampant that Amazon was replacing people with robots …"

    Well it's better than treating people like robots, I suppose.

    As elsergiovolador says above who will they sell all this stuff to if no-one has a job?

    And no, even with robots working in those warehouses, I still won't do business with Amazon.

    1. codejunky Silver badge

      Re: It's a start.

      @nematoad

      "As elsergiovolador says above who will they sell all this stuff to if no-one has a job?"

      If amazon relies on its own staff to buy its products to stay in business it will certainly fail. Just as automation has improved agriculture and manufacturing this is just another improvement which benefits us all. Especially those who are mistreated working the job.

      1. Cederic Silver badge

        Re: It's a start.

        There does though need to be productive enjoyable work for people we don't want to pay to sit at home, so all those farm labourers, factory workers and warehouse staff need other opportunities opening to them.

        We can't all be computer programmers, so where's the niche for people currently filling all the roles being automated.

        1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

          Re: It's a start.

          The invention of the tractor allowed the creation of the NHS.

          When you have 80% of the population scraping a living out of the dirt, you don't have any population surplus for a mass healthcare service, or anything else of modern comfortable society. Reducing the amount of human labour needed in mundane tasks releases that human labour for more valuable tasks, even if those more valuable tasks are cleaning people's bums and lifting them in and out of bed. We can afford to have armies of skivvies feeding Grandma her gruel, in the indoors out of the rain, because that army of skivvies isn't toiling away in the fields instead, outside, getting rained and snowed on.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: It's a start.

            " We can afford to have armies of skivvies feeding Grandma her gruel, [...]"

            Q So why is the UK care sector desperately short of staff?

            A1 the pay is too low

            A2 Brexit alienated and deterred European workers

            Solution: Robot care workers

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: It's a start.

              I see a certain correlation between A1 and A2. But as a bleeding remainer, who can't stop harping on the subject, I see a certain poetic justice here - sooner or later, British population WILL be paid higher wages, which will then be passed on to the end products, for which British population WILL pay higher prices (on top of higher prices on account of Putin's war and energy sources deficiency, post-covid, supply-chain link disruption, opportunity for extra mark-up in the supply chain disruption, etc. Goes round, comes round.

              1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

                Re: It's a start.

                It's already happening now. Look at the current and prospective strike action that many unions are implementing or planning.

      2. IGotOut Silver badge

        Re: It's a start.

        It's odd how people praise technology for realising people from the mundane, but whine like a 2 year old when their nicely paid job gets offloaded to a bot or another country.

        And yes it does help and saved millions, but it's easy to forget all those millions and millions that died due to "progress".

        Disease became rampant in the cities due to poor sanitation, poor working and cramped living conditions. Millions were injured or died through industrial accidents.

        Unless there is a safety net, poverty and its associated issues could become rampant.

        1. codejunky Silver badge

          Re: It's a start.

          @IGotOut

          "It's odd how people praise technology for realising people from the mundane, but whine like a 2 year old when their nicely paid job gets offloaded to a bot or another country."

          Why? Both make perfect sense. The short termism and (understandably) selfish desire not to change vs the overall benefit that improves peoples lives? Just as luddites loo concerned about their self interest but the advancements making everyone better off.

          "And yes it does help and saved millions, but it's easy to forget all those millions and millions that died due to "progress"."

          Or died due to lack of progress. Which is visible around the world in the poorer countries.

          "Disease became rampant in the cities due to poor sanitation, poor working and cramped living conditions. Millions were injured or died through industrial accidents."

          Just like slums of peasants who are in absolute poverty instead of relatively comfortable relative poverty. The freeing up of labour so people could actually train to be medical professionals, construction professionals and so on which alleviated those very problems. And providing enough free time for people to volunteer to go drill a well for those absolutely poor in the world.

          "Unless there is a safety net, poverty and its associated issues could become rampant."

          A safety net that cannot actually exist at all full stop without exception unless there is sufficient advancement to make people rich enough to provide a safety net. Otherwise all those actually poor people could be saved at the flick of a wand.

  11. IGotOut Silver badge

    So Proteus....

    .... is a very expensive powered pallet truck.

    1. Olafthemighty

      Re: So Proteus....

      With AI! Don't forget the AI!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: So Proteus....

        Does it sense if a load's weight distribution is going to be off balance? The support platform doesn't look to have a big enough footprint.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: So Proteus....

          I was wondering how far ahead the meatsack sensor can "see" and how quickly it will come to a halt. Will that top heavy stack of pallets then topple and crush the meatsack.

  12. tiggity Silver badge

    Cardinal limits

    Cardinal robot has upper limits on weight and size of objects it can cope with.

    So that will mean the humans will disproportionately have to deal with bulkier and heavier packages - precisely the ones more likely to cause injury problems, especially if working in a time pressured job, as recommended manual handling techniques for bulky / heavy items tend to be slower than more more health risk handling methods so chances of inappropriate techniques used... and even recommended methods not risk free, a lot depends on strength, coordination & flexibility of the worker (and in real world often age as those tend to have age related deterioration)

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Cardinal limits

      Good point! If the human has to move, say, 50 objects per hour of varying and random sizes across the bell curse, with Cardinal, the meatsack will now have to move primarily the stuff at the ends of the bell curve, ie the smallest, most fiddly and the largest, most bulky. But will the per hour targets change to match? Probably not based on what we know of Amazon.

  13. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    The problem is it's only six inches tall and human's eyes are about five feet above the ground. Humans navigate on autopilot by subcounciously scanning stuff at eye level with the subcouncious trained-by-experience that there will be nothing to trip over if the eye level is not blocked. These things will be a damn danger. People'll be tripping over them all the time as there's no eye-level warning that they're there. Just like bloody rugrats and yappy mutts that careen through your feet with no visible indication they're there. Human workers will be have to counciously force themselves to unlearn their toddlerhood and force themselves off autopilot and have to forever look at their feet to check they're not about to trip up.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      You make it sound like Amazon only employ folk with cataracts in one or more eye(s)...

      I'm pretty sure a robot that has a fricking bright green LED beaming out the front of it is very unlikely to 'sneak up' out of nowhere.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I'm pretty sure a robot that has a fricking bright green LED beaming out the front of it is very unlikely to 'sneak up' out of nowhere.

        Not to mention its robotic voice broadcasting "Out of my way meatbag scum, I have more important things to do for the great Bezos overlord than wait for your sorry arse to move. Go piss in a bottle..."

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "subcounciously scanning stuff at eye level "

      Kerbs are below your specified height of "eye level" Do you trip and fall every time you cross the road?

      Look before you leap. Watch your step. Those, and similar sayings have probably existed in one form or another since the time when language was barely grunts and growls. Otherwise people would be constantly tripping and falling both inside the house and, more especially, every time they went outside.

  14. Charlie Clark Silver badge

    Pah!

    Moving stuff around the warehouse is toy stuff.

    I think it's Boston Robotics that has robots already in use by various parcel companies that can grab, twist and move and are already being used to load and unload vehicles.

    1. JulieM

      Re: Pah!

      Yeah, but unlike anything out of Boston Dynamics, at least this thing doesn't fall over if it stops moving.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So if Amazon replaces all of their complaining, low-paid, over-worked warehouse staff with robots, that's a win, right? Those former Amazon employees can then move on to their next career goal on their path to the C-suite, and Amazon no longer gets all the bad press for being a shoddy employer. Yeah, sounds like a win-win.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Hey Jeff B? Is that you?

      You [redacted] [redacted]

      The sooner Amazon is forced out of business the better.

  16. Roger Kynaston Silver badge
    Pint

    So many films/books

    I particularly look forward to Bezos having to deal with Marvin at one of his tat warehouses.

    Icon because it is nearly Friday and soon that is all we will be able to do.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: So many films/books

      I particularly look forward to Bezos having to deal with Marvin at one of his tat warehouses.

      Marvin? You think that Bezos Bots® will be allowed expensive fripperies like diodes while working themselves onto the Amazon scrap heap? Share and enjoy...

  17. Mystereed
    Terminator

    Watch out when it gets to version 4

    Proteus IV: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demon_Seed

  18. fidodogbreath Silver badge

    robot warehouse workers that won't complain, quit, unionize...

    ...for now, anyway.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The robots can take out a whole warehouse

    Lets hope Amazon have learnt from the mistakes of others. Ocado in Andover had robots doing the picking. One robot had a battery fault (depression?) and caught fire, the robot then proceeded to carry on picking while it was alight, spreading the fire around the warehouse. I think a number of fire services were involved putting that one out (before it caused the amonia tanks on the roof to explode). Whole warehouse was a right off.

    An employee with a bad back back or muscle strain is unlikely to set the whole warehouse on fire.

    1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      Re: The robots can take out a whole warehouse

      An employee with a bad back back or muscle strain is unlikely to set the whole warehouse on fire.

      Oh I am sure if they had a lighter or similar they could.

  20. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
    Terminator

    Corrected headline

    Amazon shows off robot warehouse workers that won't complain, quit, unionize...show pity or remorse or fear and absolutely will not stop until Bezos has ALL the money

  21. martinusher Silver badge

    This has been in the works for years

    Warehouses staffed by robots have been in development for years so its about time that they were fully deployed. Amazon's not the only company doing this, either. The attraction is that the robots are faster, they take up less space between racks and they don't tire. They also don't need warehouses that are lit or heated/cooled just to keep the wetware happy. The kind of problems that they cause, though, are that if they drop things they're slow to recognize that this has happened and often can't pick them up (its the little things....).

    Ultimately the fully automated factory is doomed for the simple reason that if you don't have a place where people can work and earn money they they won't be able to spend that money buying the products that your factory or warehouse works with. This was figured out over a century ago by Henry Ford. Ultimately we can't all become overpaid bureaucrats, much as we'd like to be.

    1. codejunky Silver badge

      Re: This has been in the works for years

      @martinusher

      The first section I agree. However-

      "Ultimately the fully automated factory is doomed for the simple reason that if you don't have a place where people can work and earn money they they won't be able to spend that money buying the products that your factory or warehouse works with. This was figured out over a century ago by Henry Ford."

      That doesnt work. If your business can only survive by your staff buying your product you will lose money and collapse. There is no way for that to work as the staff buy most of their products and services outside your business and for a car infrequently. When the job stops existing people go do other things. Make other products and provide other services.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: This has been in the works for years

        "Make other products and provide other services."

        There was a sci-fi novel where an automated factory produced everything the fully supported population needed. The only physical job that couldn't be automated was hairdressing.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
          Paris Hilton

          Re: This has been in the works for years

          "The only physical job that couldn't be automated was hairdressing."

          What about telephone sanitising?

  22. Surreal Estate

    Actual cost?

    Will this lead to lower prices?

    No, I thought not.

    1. codejunky Silver badge

      Re: Actual cost?

      @Surreal Estate

      "Will this lead to lower prices?

      No, I thought not."

      Why not?

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
        Flame

        Re: Actual cost?

        Because Jeff still wants a bigger rocket.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Actual cost?

      "Will this lead to lower prices?"

      Probably. The UK Arts & Crafts Movement eschewed mass production. The paradox was that their hand-crafted designs were very nice artisan products - but only the well-off could afford to buy them

      Eventually good design was combined with mass production to produce products that most people could afford to buy. eg Wall paper produced by a person repeatedly stamping a pattern with a woodblock - or powered printing rollers churning it out with precision.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Actual cost?

      but WHO said it's about 'lower prices'?! It's about 'lower, lower, LOW costs and higher, higher, HIGHER output'. And people who ask the bleeding obvious question (who's going to buy your shit if all the jobs get outomated and all the people are out of the jobs) - they're missing the point. Amazon is in the game of musical chairs, and they're sitting in any chair they chose, because - for now - most of the chairs are empty.

      ...

      I bet they'll also reserve as many of those empty chairs, later to rent them as a service, if financially viable. And if not financially viable, they'll enter the business of finance to make it financially viable.

  23. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge
    Terminator

    Going to be interested if Rise of the Machines(tm) really happens.

    Montana bunker prepped and ready just in case?

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