Science

Will robots replace humans at Amazon?

“What we’re going to do in the next five years will surpass what we’ve achieved in the last ten years,” Joe Quinlivan, vice president of Amazon’s robotics division at the innovation center, warned Thursday during a press conference. opened a year ago in Westboro in the northeastern United States.

The company, founded 28 years ago by Jeff Bezos, has unveiled its latest creation, a robotic yellow arm called Sparrow that can detect, select and manage “millions of products” of all sizes and shapes.

Unlike its predecessors, which can only orient packages, Sparrow can manipulate objects thanks to its cylindrical tubes that suck them up and then place them in different baskets.

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This should allow employees to stop doing repetitive tasks and focus on “more useful and interesting” activities, while improving “security,” says Ty Brady, Amazon Robotics manager.

According to Joe Quinlivan, almost 75% of the 5 billion orders processed by the e-commerce giant are already being processed by some kind of robot.

– Employment threat? –

“It’s not that machines are replacing people. The thing is, machines and people work together,” Brady defends.

The company’s robotization has created more than a million jobs in recent years, specializing in engineering and maintenance jobs, as well as technicians and operators, Amazon officials said.

Although the idea that increased work automation will lead to massive job losses is not supported by the latest data released in July by the US Bureau of Statistics, the increased use of robots can still have a negative impact on employees.

By allowing certain tasks in warehouses to be made easier, these technologies can indeed help “increase the workload and pace of work with new methods of monitoring employees,” researchers from the University of Berkeley warn in a 2019 study.

As an example, they cite MissionRacer, a video game used by Amazon, in which employees pit themselves against each other to collect customer orders faster.

Employers can also use robotics to “reduce the skill levels required for the job in order to reduce training and recruitment costs,” which could lead to “wage stagnation and job insecurity,” according to the same source.

Regularly accused of “modern-day slavery” by detractors, Amazon, the second-largest employer in the US after retail giant Walmart, has so far succeeded in fending off all attempts by employees to unionize, with the exception of a warehouse in New York.

The e-commerce giant, which bought robotics company Kiva a decade ago, develops computer programs, artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotic manipulation, simulation, predictive analysis and prototype design.

Specifically, the company can manufacture “1,000” robots at its Westboro plant.

To reduce the time between a customer’s purchase of a product and its receipt, Amazon also intends to deliver light parcels using drones in two cities of California and Texas before the end of the year.

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