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Amazon’s Warehouse Robots, at Work and Play

Rob Walker
Tech Columnist
Yahoo Tech

It’s hard to say whether Amazon will ever really deploy squadrons of drones to deliver customer purchases. But, according to The Wall Street Journal, its order-fulfillment plans for the fast-approaching holiday season will involve around 10,000 robots.

These robots, designed to fit into a more efficient fulfillment-center logistics scheme, are made by Kiva Systems, a company that Amazon purchased in 2012.

Hugging the floor like a Roomba, and about the size of a big suitcase, these bright-orange bots lift and carry shelf-stacks of merchandise to warehouse workers who pack items for shipping. The idea is that it’s easier for the humans to stay in one place rather than tromp around a cavernous facility.

Curious to see this in action, I found this helpful video made by Wired a little while back:

Despite the slightly unnerving mention of a “human exclusion zone” in the warehouse setup, the robots don’t seem very intimidating. Just helping out! According to the video, they travel 12 miles a day, guided by reading bar codes on the center’s floor. And apart from the occasional five-minute recharge break, they work around the clock.

But as I learned while digging through Kiva robot videos on YouTube, there is also evidence that they (or, in fairness, their human masters) like to goof off.

For instance: Here’s a bunch of Kiva robots “dancing” the famous Nutcracker suite:

And more recently, here are a few of them playing soccer, sort of, in honor of the most recent World Cup:

The Journal notes that since the Amazon purchase, Kiva no longer sells its robots to other firms, and the company’s own rather boring YouTube channel hasn’t shared any official new videos in a couple of years. Too bad. We beseech them to make more lighthearted videos. Maybe “10 Hours of Scooting in NYC as a Robot”?

Then again, maybe some people wouldn’t be impressed or charmed by more bot clips, but worried: Will robots not only put you and me out of work someday, but ballet dancers, too? Oh, the humanity.

Write to me at rwalkeryn@yahoo.com or find me on Twitter, @notrobwalker. RSS lover? Paste this URL into your reader of choice: https://www.yahoo.com/tech/author/rob-walker/rss.