Amazon Hosts Robotics Competition To Figure Out How To Replace 230,000 Warehouse Workers

There is little doubt that Amazon operates some of the most technologically advanced warehouses in the world.  As of the end of 2016, the Seattle Times noted that the company 'employed' roughly 45,000 robots spread across 20 fulfillment centers around the country. 

As can be seen in the video below, the KIVA robots, a company which Amazon bought for $775 million in 2012, move product bins around the company's massive warehouses with relative ease.  The bins are delivered by the KIVA robots on a just in time basis to human 'pickers' who grab whatever products are needed and finish the packing process before boxes are shipped off to customers.


But while they've seemingly mastered the art of moving bins around a warehouse floor with, for all essential purposes, miniature robotic forklifts, a solution to automating the simple task of picking individual items out of those bins has remained elusive.  And, with 1,000's of very expensive, sickly and generally needy humans currently fulfilling that task, you can bet Amazon is eagerly pursuing that solution with some level of urgency.

In fact, just this weekend, Amazon will be hosting a robotics competition with 16 teams from around the world who will get a chance to show off their robotic "picking" technology for the chance to win a share of $250,000 in prize money.  Per Bloomberg:

Sixteen teams of robotics researchers are traveling to Japan this week to help Inc. solve its warehouse problem. The company has a fleet of robots that drive around its facilities gathering items for orders. But it needs humans for the last step — picking up items of various shapes, then packing the right ones into the correct boxes for shipping. It’s a classic example of an activity that’s simple, almost mindless, for humans, but still unattainable for robots. Starting Thursday, the company is running the Amazon Robotics Challenge, the third annual contest for robots that push those limits.


Both academic and commercial roboticists have been putting a lot of energy into solving what’s sometimes referred to as the “picking” challenge, and Amazon is trying to direct that energy towards its specific needs. In one part of the contest, teams fill a shelf with a random assortment of items that Amazon provides — a champagne glass, a roll of duct tape, scissors, a children’s book entitled “Robots, Robots Everywhere” — and their robots pull out specific items, packing them into boxes that represent pretend Amazon orders. In another, robots confront a jumble of items, and pack them onto shelves that resemble those in Amazon warehouses, remembering where each one went. There’s about $250,000 of prize money at stake, including $80,000 for the top prize.

Of course, for a company that spent $775 million on KIVA, $250,000 in prize money is just a drop in the bucket if it helps them to identify a grad student who could potentially solve their 'picking' problem.

Startups privately grumble that Amazon is using the contest to outsource development on the cheap. In a market where Google paid a single engineer $120 million to help develop automated vehicles, $250,000 for any usable information on automated warehouse robots basically rounds down to zero. Laboring -- even indirectly -- below the market rate for one of the world’s most valuable companies, they say, is insane.


Startups like Right Hand Robotics and Universal Logic claim that their systems are far more sophisticated than what has come out of Amazon’s challenge so far. Yaro Tenzer, a co-founder of Right Hand Robotics, is in Japan for RoboCup 2017, the conference where Amazon's contest takes place. He says he may recruit participants, but sees little reason to show off his company's techniques publicly. "The value for us is staying ahead of everyone else," he said.


So why do it? Some participants in Amazon's contest, who are mostly grad students and academics, are looking for jobs. And while there have been complaints about Amazon’s stinginess, the rewards this year are about three times as high as past prizes. Ashley Robinson, a spokeswoman for Amazon, says the company raised the prize levels because the contest is harder than it used to be.

Just another 230,000 people who are about to suffer the very real world consequences of Bernie's "Fight for $15."


Wookie Fri, 07/28/2017 - 02:50 Permalink

This is the article you post after McFuck, the biggest piece of shit Geriatric asshole in government that couldn't fly a paper plane two feet.......votes NO? If the time for Revolution isn't crystal clear now, when are any of you ever going to wake up? Wake the fuck up assholes....WTF?

Putrid_Scum Wookie Fri, 07/28/2017 - 03:07 Permalink

Not sure what Tyler is trying to say. Is he blaming technological unemployment on a minimum wage rather than robotics?

Because that would be bizarre. The present robotic revolution in industry is being caused by collapsing costs of robotic parts due to mass production of smart phone parts. Yes, the smart robots are essentially smart phones which move.


In reply to by Wookie

Putrid_Scum alt-center Fri, 07/28/2017 - 03:28 Permalink

Yes. There are a few technological breakthroughs which would prolong our System and delay The Reset; including but not limited to:

A) A new high density energy source which allows for personal air transportation

B) A human-like Artificial Intelligence

So the key would be a micro fusion reactor. Since 2008, if it weren't for the value being generated by smartphones and such, we'd be ten years into a brutal worldwide depression. Unfortunately, we've run out of time. The Reset really is imminent. Our System is collapsing. It becomes more brittle every month now.

The Families don't know what to do.

In reply to by alt-center

Putrid_Scum alt-center Fri, 07/28/2017 - 04:15 Permalink

Thank you for reading my books.

The Families are extremely wealthy with substantial Gold holdings so they're not worried about poverty. They're power-centric humans at the top of the capitalist Religion.

What they're worried about is getting killed. And their children getting killed.

The Reset is now in its 5th edition so you may write me for additional content. That volume only got good with the 4th edition, when some big boys put their stamp on the series.


In reply to by alt-center

Dirtnapper Putrid_Scum Fri, 07/28/2017 - 04:04 Permalink

There is no "reset." Reset implies a third party come to change things which isn't going to happen.  We are indeed in motion for change, the old system is finished and we are in a transition into a new one, hopefully without TPTB in charge.  Who knows, we might luck out and get a mostly capitalism system instead of this Statist nightmare.  

In reply to by Putrid_Scum

Putrid_Scum Dode415 Fri, 07/28/2017 - 08:41 Permalink


Blame the Fed, that's a very popular meme here on Zerohedge. I'm sure you'll be popular here. Unfortunately, the System has a Framework and the Framework dictates the rate of interest. The Fed can't just choose some arbitrary rate.

See The Philosophy of Capitalism, Volume 3, The Reset. The zero and negative interest rates are telling you the System is defunct. Now it's collapsing.

No one is to blame; it's a System problem.


In reply to by Dode415

BeepBeepRichie Fri, 07/28/2017 - 03:08 Permalink

So where are we gping with this? Universal basic income paid for by these job stealing technocratic corporations or a massive depopulation program? Its never talked about, its just being rolled out. I was also concerned that this topic was never brought up during the debates which makes me think its the latter. 

Ms No BeepBeepRichie Fri, 07/28/2017 - 03:19 Permalink

Their hubris is so epic that they haven't even figured out that everything they have tried to pull off recently has been a huge failure.  When they collapse economies again and come to harvest everybody, with the information already out there and after what they have put everybody through, for the last fifteen years.....  Do it fuckers!  The way globalism goes down will make tyrants shit their britches for ages to come. What are they going to do to survive that wrath?  Drop diseases on us?  Launch nukes at Russia and then go hide in their holes?  Try to starve everybody real quick like?  None of it would matter.  They are so fucked.  We are just souls in skin bags and these guys are screwed.  The writing is on the wall.  'You can't fuck with a purity like this."Get your popcorn ready.  Fuck that meditation. 

In reply to by BeepBeepRichie

Sonny Brakes BeepBeepRichie Fri, 07/28/2017 - 03:45 Permalink

If we're willing to sit back and watch the government steal our labour to ensure that their feed bag is nice and full while our neighbours starve to death then how do you think this mess we're in turns out? Our MSM is the concentration camp propaganda machine and our police forces are there to administer the shock. It's not a surprise to me and I'm not half as smart as you.

In reply to by BeepBeepRichie

JuliaS BeepBeepRichie Fri, 07/28/2017 - 06:14 Permalink

Property exists for the benefit of the owner. Robots are not beings - they're property. In this specific case - the property of Amazon corporation. Do they enrich Amazon and its owner? They do. End of story.And what property do we, common folks have? None. It's all borrowed, rented and shared. Just like good old slaves, we aren't allowed to own anything. Have a house - don't own the land. Owner of the land decides to yank it - you loose the house.You have stuff you own inside the house? The owner of the land yanks the land, you loose the house and everything in it that you cannot carry.Want to move it? Where to then? You don't own anything anywhere and if you go as far as the nearest border, they won't let you take your stuff across anyway. File papers, pay fees and they may let you push your sack of meat and bones over to the neighboring plantation, where you'll be back to square one. Starting with nothing, to accumulate the same sort of nothing.Robots or not, the problem is that for a couple of hundred years, you've had nowhere to go and nowhere to hide. Your predecessors sold you out and it's way too late to do anything above it, because by now robots have learned not only to take away jobs, but to take lives. The only thing left for the real owners is to find an excuse to use them.

In reply to by BeepBeepRichie

Putrid_Scum JuliaS Fri, 07/28/2017 - 08:19 Permalink

I think our predecessors had no agency.

My studies have led me to the opinion that humans, in general, have no agency. Bezos has no agency to do otherwise. And the human mind is quite limited---by greed and fear and ignorance.

The Dominant Class don't care about humans---that's what the dumbasses don't get. The dumbasses worship people that don't care about them--the world is the theatre of the absurd.

I used to think there was an Educational Solution but only for the rare individual who can deal with Reality. Most people, including Zerohedgers, can't accept they've actively supported a System which is about to kill them.

I've spent the last ten years laughing about it... And everyone is fearful now because it's all about to end. Our Extinction is now clear to see.


In reply to by JuliaS

Debugas Fri, 07/28/2017 - 03:23 Permalink

Q: Suppose that in some way we were able to get "free" energy.A: Gungsters at the government would privatize it all for themselves and nothing would have changed a bit

Ms No Debugas Fri, 07/28/2017 - 03:45 Permalink

After the global night of the long knives we will likely discover that cancer has 14 known cures.  It wont be apparent until later what all they have done.  Horror history books will be written about it and people will just be blown away that so many people were so stupid for so long.  People will say "Can you believe they even had everybody believing that the sun didn't affect the weather?" 

In reply to by Debugas

Ms No Fri, 07/28/2017 - 03:41 Permalink

Can you believe the insanity of these people?  This genius wants to be among the richest and most in-your-face f*cking the population in the ass at this point in history?  Wow!  When they pull the plug and people lose everything, cornered like dogs, the remaining morons will figure things out REEEEal quick!  That's if things even make it that far.  The whole thing is teetering and the military men hate their guts.  Globalism will have a global response.  I bet it starts in the US too.  Go ahead and start the next great harvest you idiots.  I almost feel sorry for them.  Its going to be a global night of the long knives.  These people are so out of touch with reality.

Donate Moar Ms No Fri, 07/28/2017 - 04:20 Permalink

Ms No,Why are you and everybody so stressed out over everything???I strongly recommend you spend some time away from TV and computers, and try to reconnect with the quiet of your own mind."The Reset" has been 'around the corner' for 50 years.Anyway, just try to relax, and step away from the doom porn. 

In reply to by Ms No

Batman11 Fri, 07/28/2017 - 04:09 Permalink

That's another 230,000 consumers gone.Employees =  consumersIt is one of capitalism's contradictions.As each company maximizes profit by cutting costs, wages and employees; in aggregate it is destroying its consumer base, demand and the system. 

Batman11 Batman11 Fri, 07/28/2017 - 04:17 Permalink

“The Marxian capitalist has infinite shrewdness and cunning on everything except matters pertaining to his own ultimate survival. On these, he is not subject to education. He continues wilfully and reliably down the path to his own destruction”.Marx could see how unfettered capitalism destroyed itself while those at the top blindly pursued their own interests.Keynes used redistribution to keep the system going indefinitely.Today we use debt, but consumers max. out on debt and then the system dies.

In reply to by Batman11

affirmed_78 Batman11 Fri, 07/28/2017 - 09:59 Permalink

I think some people are confused on whether they like this sort of news or don't.  On one hand, they can stick it to Bernie.  On the other hand, they don't like technology. Not all humans will be fired, and those that are will gradually make their way to other jobs.  There aren't any horse n buggy drivers or gas station attendants anymore, but last I checked, the world still goes round.  Technology will not slow.  Adapt or die.

In reply to by Batman11

Benjamin123 Batman11 Fri, 07/28/2017 - 10:07 Permalink

Employees are also expenses. And they can never spend more than they earn. Its such a stupid idea, to pay someone to buy your products.Every dollar they spend as customers was given to them as salary. Considering the non-salary costs of emplyees (payroll taxes, heakthcare, etc) if they are replaced by machines the expenses will drop faster than the revenues. You'll save two dollars in employees for every dollar lost in revenue.

In reply to by Batman11

TheSilentMajority Fri, 07/28/2017 - 04:21 Permalink

Amazon's product sales/delivery model is completely unprofitable and unsustainable.

The insane PE ratio has been the function of the greatest hope/earnings shinangans ever.

Has the market finally realized it with yesterdays nasty ER?

pitz Fri, 07/28/2017 - 04:22 Permalink

The problem with Amazon having this technology is that everyone else will have it as well.  So Amazon won't be able to save themselves with it.  They'll just face even more competitive pressure against their extremely bloated cost structure.