Are robots the future of warehouse management?

30th May 2017 07:58

Amazon’s third yearly Robotics Challenge is taking place in Japan in July. Finalists who are hoping that their robots will be the future of Amazon’s warehouse management have already been selected and the winning team is set to receive a prize of $250,000.

With the e-commerce powerhouse putting so much time and energy into a robotic future, it is easy to assume that robots are destined to take over warehouse management. But is this necessarily what’s best for the future of our warehouses, or just what is currently trendy?

Consider this, for a long time in the 80s, celebrity persons donned mullet haircuts, and so the general populous followed the trend without putting much thought into it. Now, having a mullet is no longer the desired hair-do (and thank god). So, will robots merely be another fad?

It is also worth questioning if robot-led warehouses are beneficial in the long run. Amazon cites their robotic developments are in order to make the process of placing orders through to delivery more efficient. While it’s inevitable that human workers will incur human error, is it worth outsourcing them entirely?

In 2015, Amazon reportedly had 96+ warehouses in the US alone, as well as 4 in India, 9 in Germany and 12+ in China, with plans to spend around $20 billion on expansion in the future.

Amazon has changed the delivery game entirely; in the past, 4-day delivery would have seemed like an incredibly fast turnaround, whereas now 2-days is standard. People can even opt for Prime accounts to speed things up even further to next-day delivery, or recently released Prime Now accounts that deliver in just 2 hours (though only available in select locations to date). How much faster can things possibly get with the added benefit of more efficient robot assistance?

 

It seems that the online superstore has begun branching out even further: in select cities, Amazon has partnered up with local restaurants and stores to deliver take-out and other store-specific items.

It is estimated that between 41 and 54 million people in the United States are subscribed to Amazon Prime, according to Cowen estimates and Consumer Intelligence Research Partners LLC.

Their website quotes “1-hour delivery from Amazon Restaurants in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Seattle, Dallas, San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland, Los Angeles and Orange County, Chicago, San Diego, Austin, Atlanta, Houston, Miami, Baltimore, Minneapolis, Tampa, Orlando, Northern Virginia, Washington, D.C., Phoenix, Columbus, Las Vegas and Portland, OR.”

With such rapid expansion into so many different sectors, how are other companies going to be expected to compete, especially when Amazon are so eager to be unbeaten on both delivery speed and price?

It could be that robots are inevitably the future of warehouse management, and if other companies wish to compete with power-house Amazon, then they’ll have to either scramble to catch up on the robot trend, or come up with something even more efficient…

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