Amazon Robots Speed Customer Orders but May Lead to Fewer Workers

One of Amazon's newest distribution centers in Tracy, Calif., is seen during a tour Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014. This Amazon Fulfillment Center opened in 2013 and was refitted to use new robot technology in the summer of 2014. All year Amazon has been investing in ways to make shipping faster and easier to prepare for this holiday season. At this Northern California warehouse the company is employing robotics and other new technology to help workers process the annual onslaught of shopping orders. (AP Photo/Brandon Bailey)
One of Amazon's newest distribution centers in Tracy, Calif., is seen during a tour Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014. This Amazon Fulfillment Center opened in 2013 and was refitted to use new robot technology in the summer of 2014. All year Amazon has been investing in ways to make shipping faster and easier to prepare for this holiday season. At this Northern California warehouse the company is employing robotics and other new technology to help workers process the annual onslaught of shopping orders. (AP Photo/Brandon Bailey)
One of Amazon’s newest distribution centers in Tracy, Calif., is seen during a tour Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014. This Amazon Fulfillment Center opened in 2013 and was refitted to use new robot technology in the summer of 2014. All year Amazon has been investing in ways to make shipping faster and easier to prepare for this holiday season. At this Northern California warehouse the company is employing robotics and other new technology to help workers process the annual onslaught of shopping orders. (AP Photo/Brandon Bailey)

 

TRACY, Calif. (Los Angeles Times) — This holiday season, Amazon’s little helper is an orange, 320-pound robot called Kiva.

The robots — more than 15,000 of them companywide — are part of Amazon’s high-tech strategy to get orders to customers faster. By lifting shelves of Amazon products off the ground and automatically delivering them to employee stations, the robots cut the time it takes for warehouse workers to walk around looking for items.

But a growing army of robots at the country’s biggest e-commerce retailer could spell trouble down the line for many of the thousands of employees at Amazon’s 109 warehouses. Amazon’s moves to revolutionize operations could also have implications industrywide if smaller companies feel forced to similarly adapt to compete.

“Real-life workers are going to have less to do,” said Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities. “It’s obvious that humans are going to lose these jobs. There will be exactly the same impact on retail as robots have had on manufacturing.”

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