At the Amazon Fulfillment Center in Robbinsville, N.J., one of the main tasks employees have to undertake is picking, counting and stowing items. Before robotics were introduced, a worker could average sorting 60 items an hour.
Now that the robots are here, the number reaches 300.
"We have a lot of robots doing some of that monotonous work, going out finding the storage, picking the units," said Robinsville, N.J. general manager Brian Perez. "Now the associate can focus on what's in front of him and work that blank space on that pod."
Amazon announced in April it would invest $1 billion in expanding robotics in its warehouses. Most of these robots are intended to aid in repetitive tasks and excessive walking. About 75 percent of Amazon orders were processed in some part by a robot in one of its facilities.
"We've been investing in robotics for over 10 years now," said John Felton, Amazon senior vice president of worldwide operations. "It's been a big part of our initiative. It's worked out really well. It's part of us. You can see it in these buildings."
Robots range from claw-like appendages to pick up items, to tiny metal tabs that kick packages down to the right trucks to floor models that move bookshelf-type storage units from place to place.
"It makes a much simpler and safer, more collaborative kind of environment with the employees," Felton added. "The amount of walking is dramatically reduced, and it allows the employees to focus on what they're really good at."
The World Economic Forum predicted that 85 million jobs would be lost to automation by 2025. However, in the same report, it also predicted that 97 million new jobs would be added as a result of artificial intelligence and robotics, mostly in the fields of dividing roles between humans, machines and machine learning.
Felton said Amazon has accelerated hiring as a result of adding robotics in warehouses. And, it may need robots more than ever: An internal report first reported by Vox showed the company believed it could run out of human workers by 2024. Though other divisions may be facing hiring freezes and layoffs, the company plans on hiring 50,000 seasonal workers this year, many of which will continue on to full-time jobs.
"Since we've invested in robotics, we've actually accelerated our hiring," he said. "So it really is part of the flywheel."
Perez says life has only got better with the robots. People used to have to walk up to 20 miles a day to bring items to different areas. Now, the task is much easier once the robots bring the shelves to them.
"Are we using the robotics to assist the associates?" he pointed out, "The answer is yes. I really don't think there's any fear that we should have that they are taking over."