Amazon shows off new robot-powered fulfillment center

Some Cyber Monday orders are likely hitching a ride on a Kiva robot, which looks sort of like a hockey puck on steroids, or getting picked up by the Robo-Stow robotic arm.
Written by Natalie Gagliordi, Contributor
Credit: CNET/CBS Interactive

With Cyber Monday in full swing, activity throughout Amazon's fleet of fulfillment centers is reaching its yearly fever pitch.

But luckily for Amazon employees, there's more than manpower at play to keep the fulfillment trains running. The e-commerce giant unveiled Monday the technology at the heart of its eighth generation fulfillment center — in short, there's a lot of robots.

Most notably is the Kiva robot, which looks sort of like a hockey puck on steroids and has the ability to shuttle upwards of 3,000 pounds of merchandise throughout the expansive fulfillment centers. Amazon says it now has more than 15,000 Kiva robots operating across its fulfillment centers in the US.

The Kiva robots are the result of a sizable acquisition Amazon made in 2012, when it snapped up Kiva Systems for $775 million. The startup focused on creating robots specifically for use in fulfilling online orders in giant warehouses.

"The Amazon fulfillment teams are dedicated to innovating in our fulfillment centers to increase speed of delivery while enabling greater local selection at lower costs for our customers," said Dave Clark, Amazon's SVP of worldwide operations and customer service, in a statement. "The advancements in our latest fulfillment centers hit all three of these customer desires while continuing to provide a work environment that is great for employees." 


Adding to the robotic tech enhancements is the Robo-Stow, which Amazon said is one of the largest robotic arms in the world. It's used to move large quantities of inventory when customer orders come in.

There's also new vision systems in place that enable the fulfillment centers to cut the hours-long inventory receiving process down to about 30 minutes, as well as a graphical computer system for employees to use when aiding the robots in order fulfillment. 

While the revamped fulfillment center tech will certainly help Amazon survive the fervor of the holiday shopping season, it will also come in handy as the company tries to expand same-day delivery services to more parts of the country. As for the threat the robots pose to actual human workers, time will tell, but Amazon is already trying to squash the notion of a total robotic takeover.  

For a closer look inside the fulfillment center, check out photos from CNET's on-site tour.


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