Skip to main content

Amazon deploys robot armies in new-gen fullfillment centers


Seattle - Santa may have his elves, but has something better to help send holiday gifts on their way: a robot army. The online giant has deployed more than 15,000 robots in 10 next-generation fulfillment centers it has opened across the United States.

The centers, which boost an array of high-tech features, will "increase speed of delivery while enabling greater local selection at lower costs for our customers," stated Amazon senior VP of worldwide operations and customer service Dave Clark.

The robots were developed in collaboration with Kiva Systems, a robotics company Amazon purchased in 2012. Weighing in at some 320-pounds each, they resemble large orange-colored Roombas. They bring items out of storage, off shelves and out of bins, carrying the goods to human employees for faster picking and packing.

The robots navigate Amazon’s huge warehouses by scanning coded stickers on the floor, which deliver digital directions from a centralized database. The robots can lift up to a stack of four barcoded shelves and 750 pounds of merchandise, allowing Amazon to fit more goods in its warehouses without adding space.

Amazon estimates the robots allow it to pick items two to three times faster than by its previous manual process, although the company says it won’t cut distribution center staff.

The Seattle Times reported that the company plans to expand use of the robots to a few international sites next year, and more widely in 2016. While Amazon has not commented on the cost of the system, it said the robots will speed shipping times and boost selection, while cutting operating costs 20%.

Analyst firm Jaffrey Capital Markets had estimated that a fleet of 10,000 robots could help Amazon save $450 million to $900 million in distribution costs annually.

In addition to the robots, Amazon’s new generation centers include:

• Robo-Stow, described as one of the earth’s largest robotic arms, which moves large quantities of inventory for customer order fulfillment;

• New vision systems enabling the unloading and receipt of an entire trailer of inventory in as little as 30 minutes instead of hours; and

• New, high-end graphically oriented computer systems for employees to use while fulfilling orders for customers.

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds