November 24, 2014
The Seattle online retailer has outfitted several U.S. warehouses with squat, orange, wheeled robots that move stocked shelves to workers, instead of having employees seek items amid long aisles of merchandise, according to people familiar with the matter.
At a 1.2-million-square-foot warehouse in Tracy, Calif., about 60 miles east of San Francisco, Amazon this summer replaced four floors of fixed shelving with the robots, the people said.
Now, “pickers” at the facility stand in one place and wait for robots to bring four-foot-by-six-foot shelving units to them, sparing them what amounted to as much as 20 miles a day of walking through the warehouse.
Employees at some robot-equipped warehouses are expected to pick and scan at least 300 items an hour, compared with 100 under the old system, current and former workers said.
The robots are the fruits of Amazon’s 2012 purchase of Kiva Systems Inc. for $775 million. In May, Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos told investors at Amazon’s annual meeting that he planned to deploy 10,000 Kiva robots by year-end, up from 1,400 at the time.
People familiar with the matter said the Kiva robots have been deployed at warehouses in California, Kentucky and Texas, among others. The full list of warehouses using the robots couldn’t be learned.
At the robot-equipped warehouses, 20 or more shelf-toting robots may be lined up in front of a picker, these people said.
Employees remove items from the robot-enabled shelves and place them in bins, which are whisked away on conveyor belts to other workers who box the goods, label the boxes and place them on trucks for delivery.
Related: Help! The Robots are Coming to a Distribution Center near You (and soon!)