The question is not, “Do companies like Amazon and DHL use robots?” it’s how many robots do they use? The warehouse robotic market is expected to grow globally from $19 billion to $54 billion by 2030. That’s the same year McKinsey & Company predicts 14% of the global workforce may need to change jobs because of advances in digitization, automation and artificial intelligence. The Role Robots Play.
It’s no secret that robots are key to helping companies increase productivity and revenue. “We’re seeing the true commercialization of automation and AI beginning to take shape and more importantly, we’re starting to see corporations and companies seeing real value in bringing these automations and robotics into the workforce,” says Gilead Sanders Business Futurist Marvin Dejean.
Robots are key to helping Amazon sort and send 5 billion packages a year.
At Amazon Air, the company’s global air hub at the Cincinnati Northern Kentucky International Airport, hundreds of self-charging electric robots that look like small scooters go whizzing across a giant concrete floor. As they work to fill your orders, some speed up and others slow down because they all don’t have the same priority.
Director of Operations Adrian Melendez explains how the “drives” know where to go on this robotics sortation floor.
“They primarily use the square stickers on the floor we call ‘fiducials.’ And so the drive unit has a sensor on the bottom of it that reads these fiducials as it makes its way across the floor. And it knows exactly where it needs to speed up and slow down,” he says.
Even a year ago at all its facilities, the company had a half-million drives and more than a dozen types of robots. In Boston, it’s testing a robot called Sparrow. It’s the first Amazon robot that can sort different shapes and sizes. Some worry it might replace people. Melendez says don’t worry about that.
“Robotics can never replace people,” Melendez says. “The robots are really good at algorithms or following a set path. People are problem-solvers and that’s what we want to keep our folks doing.”
DHL Supply Chain uses 4,000 robots in its e-commerce warehouse facilities. The closest to Cincinnati would be Columbus and Indianapolis. (This is not DHL Express at CVG.) CEO of DHL’s Supply Chain Oscar de Bok says three issues spurred an increase in robotics: the growth of e-commerce, robotics innovation and the difficulty of being able to find workers.
“We now train people within an hour in a new role,” he says. “It used to take weeks. And if you have robotic solutions it’s also easier to cover trends of high season and low season.”
Will a robot take my job? The Role Robots Play
Business Futurist Dejean expects in the next three to five years up-skilling and re-skilling is going to be front and center. “Academia, corporations and nonprofit or public and private entities really need to start having a discussion because this is unprecedented in our time, in terms of re-shifting people’s skills in such a short period of time.”
He says Switzerland and Finland are already thinking about the implications and we all could learn from China, Japan, Singapore and South Korea, who are way ahead of our technology and are seeing the implications on society.
Dejean predicts robots will be in places we can barely imagine now, like transportation, agriculture and the classroom.
The jobs artificial intelligence will create
According to a global study, there are new categories of human jobs emerging.
The MIT study finds three roles created by artificial intelligence: trainers, explainers and sustainers.
- Trainers are workers to teach AI systems how to be more empathetic.
- Explainers explaining AI algorithms to nontechnical professionals.
- Sustainers make sure the AI systems are operating as designed.