These Are the Amazon Robots Filling Your Holiday Shopping Orders

Dec. 1: Amazon has an army of Kiva robots working this holiday season, installed in ten of Amazon's 50 U.S. warehouses. Bloomberg's Sam Grobart looks at how these orange machines operate and why they're so efficient.

You’d think all the holiday shopping would be over by the end of Cyber Monday, but there’s still plenty of purchasing to be done. And when shoppers buy online, the real hub of activity will be in the fulfillment centers that sort and ship products to your house.

Much of that work will be done by robots, in many cases ones made by Kiva, a manufacturer purchased by in 2012. A Kiva robot looks less like C-3PO and more like an ottoman on wheels. They scurry around a warehouse floor, lifting and moving racks of merchandise to humans who can box an item up and place it on a conveyor belt to the delivery truck.

The rolling Kivas are far more efficient than walking humans. In a typical warehouse, a worker might walk several miles a day, just to go back and forth retrieving things. In more automated facilities, the people stay in one place, and the robots do the legwork. The machines are guided by tape markers on the floor and can scan invidual racks to confirm they’re moving the right one.

Humans are still the most efficient way to fold, box, and wrap packages, so they remain an important part of the equation—for now. Work is already under way to teach robots those skills, too, which will reduce human involvement even further. Those holiday-hiring binges may be on borrowed time.

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