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‘Ernie and Bert’ ready to join as Amazon’s robotic co-workers

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 Amazon warehouse workers could soon be joined by a couple of new co-workers: Ernie and Bert, the two new robots Amazon is testing with the goal of enhancing productivity and reducing strenuous movements for its workers.

Last month, Amazon had announced the goal of reducing recordable incident rates by 50% by 2025. It plans to invest over $300 million into safety projects this year.

Amazon described in a blog post on Sunday that it is testing four robots to move items across its fulfillment centers. Ernie helps remove items from a robotic shelf so employees don’t have to. The process doesn’t save time, Amazon said in the post, but testing has so far indicated it could make work safer for employees.

Bert is one of Amazon’s first Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs), made to navigate facilities independently, even while workers are moving around. Unlike other robots, Bert would not need to remain in a restricted space, meaning workers could ask it to take items across a facility. Amazon said Bert could eventually move heavier items.

Scooter and Kermit are two other AMRs under development that transport carts. Amazon said these types of robots could take over workers’ tasks of moving empty packages across facilities so they can focus on activities requiring critical thinking skills and reduce physically strenuous work.

Kermit, which follows magnetic tape to move empty totes, is further along in development, Amazon said and will be introduced in at least a dozen North American sites this year.

Amazon said it plans to deploy Scooter in at least one facility this year.

While the introduction of robots to the workplace often raises questions about whether human jobs will be replaced, Amazon argues they simply allow workers to focus on tasks that most need their attention while minimizing their potential for injury.

Amazon said it’s added over a million jobs around the world since it began using robotics in its facilities as early as 2012.

Amazon workers around the country last year had staged a “mass call out” demanding better safety protections and the closure of warehouses with positive cases of Covid-19 as the pandemic was on the roll. Although Amazon provides masks and temperature checks and enforces social distancing protocols, many of its more than 250,000 warehouse workers are still scared.

The addition of Ernie and Bert to its workforce might be looked upon as a welcome step as now, third-party sellers on Amazon are stepping up to help and repositioning their small businesses to survive the after-effects of the pandemic.

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