Meet the Little Orange Robots Making Amazon's Warehouses More Humane

For $775 million Amazon has acquired robot company Kiva Solutions, looking to "improve productivity" in those fulfillment centers we've heard such un-fun things about

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For $775 million Amazon has acquired robot company Kiva Solutions, looking to "improve productivity" in those fulfillment centers we've heard such un-fun things about. Specifically, the little orange bots will bring products to workers, who as of now can walk up to 13 to 15 miles a day hand-picking and delivering items, according to a report from last September. Amazon bought the organization hoping to improve its margins -- a packer working with Kiva bots can fulfill three to four times as many orders per hour, according to Kiva via The Wall Street Journal. But it looks like the tech will also reduce the exhausting walking that Amazon warehouse work now requires.

Kiva Systems "uses game-changing automation technology for distribution centers," as the company site explains. That "game changing" tech refers to what Kiva calls its "magic shelf," or the Kiva Mobile-robotic Warehouse Automation System. Instead of having human workers walk through aisles of items across huge warehouse floors, robots do the moving, as we learned from an instructional video over at the Kiva site. Here's exactly how it works, via The Wall Street Journal's John Letzing

Kiva's robots bring the product shelves to a warehouse worker, rather than a worker walking to the shelves. The robots locate the items in a customer's order, move the products around warehouses and help get packed boxes to a final loading dock.

The robots—squat, orange cubes—zip around shipping centers loaded with inventory shelves stacked several feet into the air above them. The robots can be tailored to each particular client, with customized software.

That robot to human delivery system will replace this kind of painful-sounding work we hear Amazon's warehouse workers now experience, as described last September in a Morning Call exposé:

One former temporary warehouse employee said he worked seven months before he was terminated for not working fast enough. In his 50s, he worked 10 hours a day, four days a week as a picker, plucking items from bins and delivering them to packers who put them in boxes for shipment. He would walk 13 to 15 miles daily ... 

With the bots, daily Amazon worker life will look more like this:

Not everyone will love the new, walk-free system. One worker, a former waitress, told the Morning Call that she enjoyed the daily exercise.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.