Amazon's new robot army is ready to ship

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See the Robots Who Ship Your Amazon Packages


TRACY, California (AP) -- A year ago, Amazon.com workers like 34-year-old Rejinaldo Rosales hiked miles of aisles each shift to "pick" each item a customer ordered and prepare it for shipping.

Now the e-commerce giant boasts that it has boosted efficiency - and given workers' legs a break - by deploying more than 15,000 wheeled robots to crisscross the floors of its biggest warehouses and deliver stacks of toys, books and other products to employees.

"We pick two to three times faster than we used to," Rosales said during a short break from sorting merchandise into bins at Amazon's massive distribution center in Tracy, California, about 60 miles east of San Francisco. "It's made the job a lot easier."

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Amazon's new robot army is ready to ship
A Kiva robot drive unit is seen, foreground, before it moves under a stack of merchandise pods, seen on a tour of one of Amazon's newest distribution centers in Tracy, Calif., Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014. This Amazon Fulfillment Center opened in 2013 and was refitted to use new robot technology in the summer of 2014. All year Amazon has been investing in ways to make shipping faster and easier to prepare for this holiday season. At this Northern California warehouse the company is employing robotics and other new technology to help workers process the annual onslaught of shopping orders. (AP Photo/Brandon Bailey)
In this still frame from video, a worker moves pods of merchandise that are moved by robots, seen on a tour of one of Amazon's newest distribution centers in Tracy, Calif., Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014. This Amazon Fulfillment Center opened in 2013 and was refitted to use new robot technology in the summer of 2014. All year Amazon has been investing in ways to make shipping faster and easier to prepare for this holiday season. At this Northern California warehouse the company is employing robotics and other new technology to help workers process the annual onslaught of shopping orders. (AP Photo/Brandon Bailey)
Amazon worker Rejinaldo Rosales, 34, retrieves items from pods that are carried to him by Kiva robots at one of Amazon's newest distribution centers in Tracy, Calif., Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014. He then places the items in containers that will go to other workers for packing and mailing. This Amazon Fulfillment Center opened in 2013 and was refitted to use new robot technology in the summer of 2014. All year Amazon has been investing in ways to make shipping faster and easier to prepare for this holiday season. At this Northern California warehouse the company is employing robotics and other new technology to help workers process the annual onslaught of shopping orders. (AP Photo/Brandon Bailey)
One of Amazon's newest distribution centers in Tracy, Calif., is seen during a tour Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014. This Amazon Fulfillment Center opened in 2013 and was refitted to use new robot technology in the summer of 2014. All year Amazon has been investing in ways to make shipping faster and easier to prepare for this holiday season. At this Northern California warehouse the company is employing robotics and other new technology to help workers process the annual onslaught of shopping orders. (AP Photo/Brandon Bailey)
Dave Clark, Amazon senior vice president for worldwide operations, takes visitors on a tour of one of Amazon's newest distribution centers in Tracy, Calif., Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014. This Amazon Fulfillment Center opened in 2013 and was refitted to use new robot technology in the summer of 2014. All year Amazon has been investing in ways to make shipping faster and easier to prepare for this holiday season. At this Northern California warehouse the company is employing robotics and other new technology to help workers process the annual onslaught of shopping orders. (AP Photo/Brandon Bailey)
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Amazon.com Inc., which faces its single biggest day of online shopping on Monday, has invested heavily this year in upgrading and expanding its distribution network, adding new technology, opening more shipping centers and hiring 80,000 seasonal workers to meet the coming onslaught of holiday orders. Amazon says it processed orders for 36.8 million items on the Monday after Thanksgiving last year, and it's expecting "Cyber Monday" to be even busier this year.

CEO Jeff Bezos vows to one day deliver packages by drone, but that technology isn't ready yet. Even so, Amazon doesn't want a repeat of last year, when some customers were disappointed by late deliveries attributed to Midwestern ice storms and last-minute shipping snarls at both UPS and FedEx. Meanwhile, the company is facing tough competition from rivals like Google and eBay, and traditional retailers are offering more online services.

Amazon has forecast revenue of $27.3 billion to $30.3 billion for the holiday quarter, up 18 percent from last year but less than Wall Street had expected. However, Amazon has invested billions of dollars in its shipping network and its reliability is a big selling point to customers, Piper Jaffray investment analyst Gene Munster wrote in a note to clients Friday. He thinks Amazon's forecast is conservative.

The Seattle-based company now has 109 shipping centers around the globe. The Tracy facility is one of 10 in which Amazon has deployed the robots, using technology acquired when the company bought robot-maker Kiva Systems Inc. in 2012, said Dave Clark, Amazon's senior vice president for operations, who gave reporters a tour on Sunday.

[Gearing up for Cyber Monday 2014:]

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Preparing for Cyber Monday 2014
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Amazon's new robot army is ready to ship
Employees work on the warehouse floor at one of Amazon.com Inc.'s fulfillment centers in Peterborough, U.K., on Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014. Online spending will account for about 13 percent of December sales, up from 12 percent a year earlier, according to forecasters at Deloitte LLP. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images
An employee wears a T-shirt depicting a $100 U.S. dollar bill as he gathers customer orders ahead of shipping at one of Amazon.com Inc.'s fulfillment centers in Peterborough, U.K., on Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014. Online spending will account for about 13 percent of December sales, up from 12 percent a year earlier, according to forecasters at Deloitte LLP. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Employees work on the warehouse floor at one of Amazon.com Inc.'s fulfillment centers in Peterborough, U.K., on Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014. Online spending will account for about 13 percent of December sales, up from 12 percent a year earlier, according to forecasters at Deloitte LLP. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Employees prepare to package processed customer orders ahead of shipping at one of Amazon.com Inc.'s fulfillment centers in Peterborough, U.K., on Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014. Online spending will account for about 13 percent of December sales, up from 12 percent a year earlier, according to forecasters at Deloitte LLP. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Packaged and labeled customer orders sit in a box ahead of shipping at one of Amazon.com Inc.'s fulfillment centers in Peterborough, U.K., on Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014. Online spending will account for about 13 percent of December sales, up from 12 percent a year earlier, according to forecasters at Deloitte LLP. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images
An Amazon.co.uk logo sits on a sign above the entrance to one of Amazon.com Inc.'s fulfillment centers in Peterborough, U.K., on Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014. Online spending will account for about 13 percent of December sales, up from 12 percent a year earlier, according to forecasters at Deloitte LLP. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images
An employee pushes a cart between racks of books and merchandise as he processes customer orders ahead of shipping at one of Amazon.com Inc.'s fulfillment centers in Peterborough, U.K., on Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014. Online spending will account for about 13 percent of December sales, up from 12 percent a year earlier, according to forecasters at Deloitte LLP. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images
An employee pushes a cart between racks of books and merchandise as he processes customer orders ahead of shipping at one of Amazon.com Inc.'s fulfillment centers in Peterborough, U.K., on Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014. Online spending will account for about 13 percent of December sales, up from 12 percent a year earlier, according to forecasters at Deloitte LLP. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images
An employee uses a hand-held scanner to process a customer order ahead of shipping at one of Amazon.com Inc.'s fulfillment centers in Peterborough, U.K., on Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014. Online spending will account for about 13 percent of December sales, up from 12 percent a year earlier, according to forecasters at Deloitte LLP. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images
An employee pushes a cart between racks of books and merchandise as he processes customer orders ahead of shipping at one of Amazon.com Inc.'s fulfillment centers in Peterborough, U.K., on Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014. Online spending will account for about 13 percent of December sales, up from 12 percent a year earlier, according to forecasters at Deloitte LLP. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images
An employee pushes a cart past aisles of merchandise as she works at one of Amazon.com Inc.'s fulfillment centers in Peterborough, U.K., on Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014. Online spending will account for about 13 percent of December sales, up from 12 percent a year earlier, according to forecasters at Deloitte LLP. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images
An employee seals a packaged customer order into an Amazon branded cardboard delivery box ahead of shipping at one of Amazon.com Inc.'s fulfillment centers in Peterborough, U.K., on Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014. Online spending will account for about 13 percent of December sales, up from 12 percent a year earlier, according to forecasters at Deloitte LLP. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images
An Amazon logo sits on a cardboard delivery box as an employee processes customer orders ahead of shipping at one of Amazon.com Inc.'s fulfillment centers in Peterborough, U.K., on Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014. Online spending will account for about 13 percent of December sales, up from 12 percent a year earlier, according to forecasters at Deloitte LLP. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images
An employee uses a hand-held scanner as he sorts merchandise inside a cart while processing customer orders at one of Amazon.com Inc.'s fulfillment centers in Peterborough, U.K., on Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014. Online spending will account for about 13 percent of December sales, up from 12 percent a year earlier, according to forecasters at Deloitte LLP. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images
An employee uses a hand-held scanner as he processes customer orders ahead of shipping at one of Amazon.com Inc.'s fulfillment centers in Peterborough, U.K., on Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014. Online spending will account for about 13 percent of December sales, up from 12 percent a year earlier, according to forecasters at Deloitte LLP. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A employee pushes a cart as he searches storage racks for customer orders ahead of shipping at one of Amazon.com Inc.'s fulfillment centers in Peterborough, U.K., on Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014. Online spending will account for about 13 percent of December sales, up from 12 percent a year earlier, according to forecasters at Deloitte LLP. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images
An employee pushes a cart past bays of merchandise as she processes customer orders at one of Amazon.com Inc.'s fulfillment centers in Peterborough, U.K., on Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014. Online spending will account for about 13 percent of December sales, up from 12 percent a year earlier, according to forecasters at Deloitte LLP. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images
An employee carries a hand-held scanner as she pushes a cart past bays of merchandise at one of Amazon.com Inc.'s fulfillment centers in Peterborough, U.K., on Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014. Online spending will account for about 13 percent of December sales, up from 12 percent a year earlier, according to forecasters at Deloitte LLP. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images
An employee pushes a cart past bays of merchandise as she processes customer orders at one of Amazon.com Inc.'s fulfillment centers in Peterborough, U.K., on Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014. Online spending will account for about 13 percent of December sales, up from 12 percent a year earlier, according to forecasters at Deloitte LLP. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images
An employee, right, uses a pallet truck to maneuver flat-packed cardboard delivery boxes as workers process customer orders ahead of shipping at one of Amazon.com Inc.'s fulfillment centers in Peterborough, U.K., on Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014. Online spending will account for about 13 percent of December sales, up from 12 percent a year earlier, according to forecasters at Deloitte LLP. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Employees select goods from storage racks as they process customer orders ahead of shipping at one of Amazon.com Inc.'s fulfillment centers in Peterborough, U.K., on Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014. Online spending will account for about 13 percent of December sales, up from 12 percent a year earlier, according to forecasters at Deloitte LLP. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Employees use hand-held scanners as they process customer orders ahead of shipping at one of Amazon.com Inc.'s fulfillment centers in Peterborough, U.K., on Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014. Online spending will account for about 13 percent of December sales, up from 12 percent a year earlier, according to forecasters at Deloitte LLP. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Employees process customer orders ahead of shipping at one of Amazon.com Inc.'s fulfillment centers in Peterborough, U.K., on Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014. Online spending will account for about 13 percent of December sales, up from 12 percent a year earlier, according to forecasters at Deloitte LLP. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Storage racks stand beyond employees as they process customer orders at one of Amazon.com Inc.'s fulfillment centers in Peterborough, U.K., on Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014. Online spending will account for about 13 percent of December sales, up from 12 percent a year earlier, according to forecasters at Deloitte LLP. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Employees process customer orders ahead of shipping at one of Amazon.com Inc.'s fulfillment centers in Peterborough, U.K., on Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014. Online spending will account for about 13 percent of December sales, up from 12 percent a year earlier, according to forecasters at Deloitte LLP. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Employees process customer orders ahead of shipping at one of Amazon.com Inc.'s fulfillment centers in Peterborough, U.K., on Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014. Online spending will account for about 13 percent of December sales, up from 12 percent a year earlier, according to forecasters at Deloitte LLP. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A worker selects a boxed Pure Evoke D4 digital radio from a crate as he processes a customer's order at the John Lewis Plc semi-automated distribution centre in Milton Keynes, U.K., on Monday, Dec. 1, 2014. The pound rallied from its weakest level in more than a year versus the dollar as a report showed U.K. manufacturing expanded at a faster pace than economists predicted last month. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Amazon.com Inc. employees process customer orders at the company's fulfillment center ahead of Cyber Monday in Tracy, California, U.S., on Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014. In 2005, retailers coined the term 'Cyber Monday' to describe a surge in web purchases on the first work day after Thanksgiving by people who had spent the weekend browsing in stores. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images
An Amazon.com Inc. employee organizes merchandise at the company's fulfillment center ahead of Cyber Monday in Tracy, California, U.S., on Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014. In 2005, retailers coined the term 'Cyber Monday' to describe a surge in web purchases on the first work day after Thanksgiving by people who had spent the weekend browsing in stores. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Glenn Wright, dressed in a Santa Claus costume, moves items at the Amazon fulfillment center on Monday, Dec. 1, 2014, in Lebanon, Tenn. Retailers rolled out discounts and free shipping deals on Cyber Monday, with millions of Americans expected to log on and shop on their work computers, laptops and tablets after the busy holiday shopping weekend. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR DELL, INC. - Michael Dell, chairman and CEO of Dell Inc., kicks off Cyber Monday by taking a sales call at Dell’s headquarters in Round Rock, Texas on Monday, Dec. 1 2014. Dell helped sales rep Justin Sole and the rest of the U.S. Small Business team field customer calls on this busy holiday shopping day. (Jack Plunkett/AP Images for Dell Inc.)
Theresa White fills orders at the Amazon fulfillment center in Lebanon, Tenn. on Monday, Dec. 1, 2014. Retailers rolled out discounts and free shipping deals on Cyber Monday, with millions of Americans expected to log on and shop on their work computers, laptops and tablets after the busy holiday shopping weekend. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Teresa Clark fills an order at the Amazon fulfillment center in Lebanon, Tenn. on Monday, Dec. 1, 2014. Retailers rolled out discounts and free shipping deals on Cyber Monday, with millions of Americans expected to log on and shop on their work computers, laptops and tablets after the busy holiday shopping weekend. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
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More than 1,500 full-time employees work at the Tracy center, which has 1.2 million square feet of space - the equivalent of 28 football fields. They are joined by about 3,000 robots, gliding swiftly and quietly around the warehouse. The robots navigate by scanning coded stickers on the floor, following digital commands that are beamed wirelessly from a central computer.

Each of the squat orange machines can slide under and then lift a stack of shelves that's four feet wide and holds up to 750 pounds of merchandise. The system uses bar codes to track which items are on each shelf, so a robot can fetch the right shelves for each worker as orders come in.

Because the robots travel underneath, the shelves can be stacked closely together, which means the warehouse can hold more goods, Clark said. The Tracy center now holds about 20 million items, representing 3.5 million different products, from bottles of gourmet steak sauce to high-end audio headsets, books and video games. Clark said it can ship 700,000 items in a day, but will hold more and ship more by next year.The robots will cut the Tracy center's operating costs by 20 percent, Clark said. But he was quick to assert they won't eliminate jobs.

"Our focus is all about building automation that helps people do their jobs better," he said, adding that workers are needed for more complex tasks such as shelving, packing and checking for damaged items. The system takes the complexity of different tasks into account, rather than forcing employees to work at an inhuman pace, Clark added.

Rosales agrees. Though he works rapidly, he said the robots "actually adjust to your speed. If you're picking slower, they slow down."

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