May 1, 2019 / 4:24 PM / 3 months ago

RPT-Amazon dismisses idea automation will eliminate all its warehouse jobs soon

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By Nandita Bose

WASHINGTON, May 1 (Reuters) - Amazon.com Inc dismissed the idea of running a fully automated warehouse in the near future, citing the superior cognitive ability of humans and the limitations of current technology.

Scott Anderson, director of Amazon Robotics Fulfillment, said current technology is at least 10 years away from fully automating the processing of a single order picked by a worker inside a warehouse.

“There is a fallacy in the initial understanding of ‘Are we going to be a lights-out fulfillment network in the next few years?’” Anderson said during a tour of Amazon’s Baltimore warehouse for journalists on Tuesday.

For example, he said, the technology for a robot to pick a single product from a bin without damaging other products or picking multiple products at the same time in a way that could benefit the e-commerce retailer is years away.

Anderson said Amazon is exploring a variety of technologies to automate the process of packing merchandise into boxes but it could take a decade or more for the company to do that.

“In the current form, the technology is very limited. The technology is very far from the fully automated workstation that we would need,” Anderson said.

The tour came at a time when the company has come under fire from labor groups and other Amazon critics for allegedly poor working conditions in its warehouses and for increasingly automating jobs and reducing its dependence on human labor.

The company said it is not changing the level of productivity inside its warehouses to catch up with its recent one-day shipping announcement. It is instead making changes to the transportation and delivery process.

Last month, Amazon said it plans to deliver packages to members of its loyalty club, Prime, in just one day instead of two.

Anderson said Amazon’s current target is 4 hours from the time a product is ordered to the time it leaves the warehouse and the company is sticking with that.

The e-commerce company did not share details on how its decision to raise its minimum wage to $15 had impacted workforce turnover.

However, it said applications for seasonal jobs doubled to 850,000 at the end of October last year from the record number of applications the company received in August 2017, when it held a national job fair.

Amazon raised its minimum wage to $15 per hour for U.S. employees in November, giving in to critics of what they said was poor pay and working conditions. (Reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington Editing by Phil Berlowitz)

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