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Amazon’s Robotic Work Force Is Bigger Than The Netherlands’ Armed Forces

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Amazon significantly expanded its army of warehouse robots in 2016. (Amazon Warehouse by Scott Lewis/Flickr)

E-commerce and cloud giant Amazon has added more soldiers to its robot army over the past year. The company now has 45,000 robots shuffling products around 20 distributions centers. That makes it bigger than the Netherlands’ Armed Forces. It is also a 50 percent increase from the 30,000 robots working side-by-side with 230,000 human employees during last year’s holiday season.

The Seattle Times, a newspaper based in the company’s headquarters, first published the statistics.

Amazon, by far the world’s largest online retailer, acquired Kiva Systems for $775 million (£632 million) back in 2012. During that time, Kiva was only a small robotics company logistics customers appreciate for its autonomous warehouse vehicles. Now, renamed as Amazon Robotics machines, those vehicles or their descendants are working in the retailer’s warehouses in very large numbers.

Adoption of Robotics

The company, per Business Insider, has been adding roughly 15,000 robots year-on-year. At the end of 2014, it had 15,000 robots operating across 10 warehouses. In 2015, that number rose to 30,000, and now the company has 45,000. The cloud giant has not disclosed how many humans exactly are currently employed in its fulfillment centers. But the firm’s early 2017 earnings should determine such a number.

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It’s noteworthy though that from the fourth quarter of 2015 to the third quarter of 2016, the company reported a 46 percent, 12-month increase on average in staffers, excluding temporary recruits. While they have thousands of robots employed, most of the storing and picking of items which need fine motor skills and discernment are still done by human brains and hands for now.

Apparently, the company’s robot army still has much that is experimental about it.

Automated Future

“We’ve changed, again, the automation, the size, the scale many times, and we continue to learn and grow there,” Amazon Chief Financial Officer Brian Olsavsky previously said. The executive added he could not point to any “general trends” in the adoption of robotics. He noted some fulfillment centers are clearly “fully outfitted” in robots while “some don’t for economic reasons — maybe the volume’s not perfect for robot volume.”

Most of the retailer’s robots are 16in tall and weigh 145kg. They can travel at 5mph and can carry packages that weigh up to 317kg.

Meanwhile, the company is also looking at automating other aspects of its business beyond its warehouse. It announced in December its first automated drone delivery in the United Kingdom. It’s also filed a patent that would allow its use of automated drones to deliver packages from large airships in the future.

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