Amazon dismisses idea of warehouse robots taking over our jobs anytime soon

Industry 4.0 is coming, but fully autonomous warehouses go beyond smart applications in our current grasp.

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It seems that we will keep our warehouse jobs a little longer.

Amazon, one of the largest e-retailers in the world, believes that fully autonomous warehouses are at least a decade away from development.

Scott Anderson, director of Amazon Robotics Fulfillment, told Reuters this week that while robotics can certainly assist in warehouses to boost efficiency, there are limitations to current technology which make the idea of warehouses being fully operational without human assistance now an impossibility.

During a tour of Amazon's Baltimore warehouse, Anderson told reporters that there is a "misconception" that the e-commerce giant will be able to run fully robotic warehouses soon.

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"In the current form, the technology is very limited," Anderson said. "The technology is very far from the fully automated workstation that we would need."

As it stands today, robots can be used to reduce human labor in repeatable, simple tasks. Robotics is also being explored as a means of bolstering the capabilities of the human workforce -- such as through augmented suits -- but robots, object recognition, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are not at the stage where robotic helpers can be tasked with end-to-end logistics management.

Industry 4.0, also known as the smart factory, is moving quickly. However, improvements to the factory floor are currently focused on the implementation of Internet of Things (IoT) devices and sensors, real-time maintenance and fault alerts, mesh networking, and smart logistics management.

Robotics will eventually become part of the smart factory and will likely become a mainstream addition for manufacturers and warehouse managers alike, but until they reach a stage where vendors are assured of a return on investment, it is unlikely that human cognition and decision-making will be fully replaced in the near future.

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Anderson's comments come at a time when Amazon's human workforce is faced with a heavier workload. The company intends to transform the Prime subscription program from a two-day free shipping scheme to only one day. The overall goal is for ordered items to be dispatched from warehouses within a four-hour timeframe.

In Amazon's Q1 2019 financial results, the e-commerce giant reported a net income of $3.6 billion -- $7.09 per diluted share -- and a net sales increase of 17 percent year-over-year to $59.7 billion.

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Robots might not be taking over our warehouses anytime soon, but they may be more frequent spectacles in our restaurants. LG, for example, is developing robots suitable for trials across CJ Foodville stores in the US later this year. 

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