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Amazon Uses Robots to Help Fulfill Holiday Orders

While mentions of drones were absent from’s latest discussion of technology and its business, the company still had plenty of high tech talking points regarding its newest approach to the humble warehouse, otherwise denoted by Amazon as a fulfillment center.

Amazon calls its latest take on the subject an eighth generation fulfillment center, with plenty of technological highlights to distance it from the long ago origins of the firm in Jeff Bezos’ garage full of books. Ten Amazon fulfillment centers now utilize features like robotics and visual recognition systems to aid in key areas like unloading trucks and moving large sections of inventory.

Amazon’s Dave Clark, senior VP of worldwide operations and customer service, said in a statement the new innovations will increase the speed of order fulfillment while allowing for broader selections of goods and lower costs for customers “while continuing to provide a work environment that is great for employees.”

There’s a lot of those employees – the firm’s Inside Amazon page says it employs more than 88,400 globally, though others have estimated that number now exceeds over 100,000 employees. Amazon’s latest announcement noted the company would hire some 80,000 seasonal employees and anticipates thousands “will stay on in regular, full-time roles.”

Getting and keeping a job certainly represents important parts of people’s lives. But as an EcommerceBytes insider report on working conditions for Amazon temporary employees found in November 2013, challenges exist for even the most high tech of warehouse, or fulfillment center, environments: long hours, balky equipment, and a need for continual safety awareness in those workplaces.

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The most up to date technology in Amazon’s fulfillment centers may be experiencing some teething problems too. Amazon said new vision systems enable the unloading and receipt of an entire trailer of inventory in as little as 30 minutes instead of hours. However, merchants have complained about delays of their Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) orders going to a new Moreno Valley, California, facility.

These receiving problems have complicated seller efforts to get products to customers, and maintain necessary cash flow. Despite assurances from Amazon in late October that the problem was being addressed, seller complaints continued through mid-November about orders going into that new replenishment center.

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David A Utter
David A Utter
David A. Utter is a freelance writer based in Lexington, KY. He has covered technology topics from search to security to online business and has been quoted in places like ZDNet and BusinessWeek. He considers his appearance on NPR's "All Things Considered" with long-time host Robert Siegel a delightful highlight. You can find him on Twitter @davidautter and on LinkedIn.