Amazon is investing in a future where robots replace human workers

Amazon doesn’t plan on replacing human workers with robots anytime soon, but that’s simply because technology hasn’t progressed to the point where robots are as efficient as humans in many tasks. That doesn’t mean the company isn’t trying, however, as Amazon awarded $20,000 earlier this week to a group of people who created a robot that could place orders almost like a human could. 

Amazon announced plans this week to hire 6,000 new warehouse workers to meet growing demand. They will join over 50,000 people currently manning dozens of Amazon fulfillment centers across the U.S., picking, packing, and shipping orders. But if the company has its way, some of that work will soon be done by robots. At the IEEE’s International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Seattle this week, Amazon sponsored a competition to find a robot that can autonomously pick a selection of goods from shelves and pack them safely for shipping. No industrial robot can recognize even a tiny fraction of the millions of items Amazon sells, let alone pick, grasp, and move them safely. Among the 25 diverse items the robots were asked to retrieve was a duck bath toy, a box of Oreo cookies, safety glasses, a bag of balls, and a plush frog-shaped dog toy. The teams had 20 minutes to pick and pack as many items as possible from a standard Amazon shelving unit, itself designed to be moved around a warehouse by small autonomous robots. Teams earned points by correctly moving items, and lost them by damaging, dropping, or misplacing anything along the way.

By Scarlett Madison

+Scarlett Madison is a mom and a friend. She blogs for a living at Social News Watch but really prefers to read more than write. Find her on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.

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