How Amazon plans to make it through the holidays: with 80,000 seasonal workers ... and 15,000 robots. Meet "Kiva", the 320-pound orange robot that looks like a Roomba on steroids and acts as the elf to Amazon's Santa: It slides across the fulfillment centers at 5mph to retrieve, lift (up to 750 pounds), and then deliver 7-foot shelves of goods to stations staffed by humans. There, it pauses just long enough for the packer to grab the item before returning the shelf. In doing so, Kivas eliminate the need for Amazon workers to walk and find items. The time savings is "dramatic," per the Los Angeles Times: from more than an hour to a low of 13 minutes. Ten of Amazon's 109 fulfillment centers are classified as "eighth generation"; journalists recently got a look at a new 1-million-square-foot one in Tracy, Calif.
That center expects to ship 700,000 items on a day like today, backed by 1,500 full-time employees and 3,000 Kivas. The Kivas don't just shrink time—they shrink space. Wide aisles are only a requirement when humans are walking down them; with Kivas doing the retrieving, the eighth-generation center can pack in 50% more items. USA Today explains that software figures out what the human packers need, and in what order, and that info is transmitted to the Kivas, which use bar-coded stickers on the floor to navigate. No word on how much the Kivas cost (Amazon acquired their maker in 2012 for $775 million), but an Amazon exec notes "we continue to add employees, and no employee has been negatively impacted by Kiva coming on board." (Read more Amazon stories.)