Science

Amazon wants to use robots to make its warehouses safer for its workers

Amid mounting claims its warehouses, especially those with robots, are unsafe, Amazon is doubling down on technology in an attempt to make them safer.

The Jeff Bezos-led company is using its Amazon Robotics and Advanced Technology labs to come up with new robots to keep Amazon’s warehouse workers, which make up the majority of its more than 1 million employees, safer.   

Robots known as ‘Bert’ and ‘Ernie,’ use motion-capture technology. 

Amazon is using technology to keep its warehouses workers safer, despite claims to the contrary. Bert was designed to navigate Amazon’s warehouses independently, becoming one of the Jeff Bezos-led company’s first autonomous mobile robots 

Ernie (pictured) is able to take totes off a shelf, deliver it to employees with its robotic arm, allowing them to remain in a more comfortable position

Ernie (pictured) is able to take totes off a shelf, deliver it to employees with its robotic arm, allowing them to remain in a more comfortable position

The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a report earlier this month that showed since 2017, Amazon reported higher rates of serious injuries that cause employees to miss work or shift to lighter duties, compared to other warehouse operators in retail

The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a report earlier this month that showed since 2017, Amazon reported higher rates of serious injuries that cause employees to miss work or shift to lighter duties, compared to other warehouse operators in retail

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This allows Amazon data scientists to understand what’s going on in the warehouse and apply that to a laboratory setting, before going back out to the field again. 

Last month, Amazon said its goal was to reduce recordable incident rates by 50 percent by 2025.

The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a report earlier this month that showed since 2017, Amazon reported higher rates of serious injuries that cause employees to miss work or shift to lighter duties, compared to other warehouse operators in retail.

In 2020, there were 5.9 serious injuries for every 100 full-time Amazon warehouse employee, nearly double the rate of the serious injuries recorded at non-Amazon warehouses

In 2020, there were 5.9 serious injuries for every 100 full-time Amazon warehouse employee, nearly double the rate of the serious injuries recorded at non-Amazon warehouses

In 2020, there were 5.9 serious injuries for every 100 full-time Amazon warehouse employee, nearly double the rate of serious injuries recorded at non-Amazon warehouses. 

By comparison, Walmart, the largest private US employer and one of Amazon’s competitors, reported 2.5 serious cases per 100 workers at its facilities in 2020. 

Other companies included in the OSHA data are Bed, Bath & Beyond and Big Lots.

A separate report report, issued in October 2020, accused Amazon of hiding a ‘mounting injury crisis.’ 

Serious injuries at fulfillment centers with robots were nearly twice the industry norm because of increased production goals.

At the time, Amazon insisted the high numbers were due to the firm encouraging employees to report even minor injuries. 

As of 2019, Amazon had more than 200,000 warehouse robots, DailyMail.com reported

Amazon purchased Kiva Systems (later renamed Amazon Robotics) in 2012 for $775 million to perform these tasks in its warehouses. 

‘With this data, visualizations, and employee feedback, we are looking to identify relatively simple changes that can make a big impact,’ said Kevin Keck, worldwide director of Advanced Technology at Amazon, in a blog post describing the aforementioned robots. 

‘Something as simple as changing the position of handles on totes may help lower the risk of injuries to our employees at a massive scale.’

In the post, Amazon described as Ernie as being able to take totes off a shelf, deliver it to employees with its robotic arm, allowing them to remain in a more comfortable position.

‘The innovation with a robot like Ernie is interesting because while it doesn’t make the process go any faster, we’re optimistic, based on our testing, it can make our facilities safer for employees,’ Keck added.

Conversely, Bert was designed to navigate Amazon’s warehouses independently, becoming one of the Jeff Bezos-led company’s first autonomous mobile robots (AMRs).

‘With Bert, robots no longer need to be confined to restricted areas,’ Amazon wrote in the post. ‘This means that in the future, an employee could summon Bert to carry items across a facility.

‘In addition, Bert might at some point be able to move larger, heavier items or carts that are used to transport multiple packages through our facilities. By taking those movements on, Bert could help lessen strain on employees.’

Two other robots, Scooter and Kermit, are AMRs capable of transporting carts.

Eventually, these robots, which are still under development, could help transport the carts that carry totes and packages, reducing the need for employees to move packages in the facility and focus on tasks ‘that require their critical thinking skills,’ Amazon added.

The company said it plans to deploy ‘at least one’ Scooter robot in an Amazon facility this year. 

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