When Jeff Bezos talks about the early days at Amazon.com a large team of idealistic dedicated explorers sitting on the floor packing, addressing, happily toiling the night away is the image conjured-up. A wistful recollection but hardly a great work-life for the average biped as many at Amazon soon discovered. Fulfillment is about as exciting a profession as being a postal clerk and the workers at Amazon found themselves performing robotic tasks in a drone-like atmosphere punctuated by an ever-increasing need for speed. In a parallel universe millions spent their working lives at The Post Office so we know people will trade-off drone-like conditions for a secure paycheck with benefits. That tradeoff opportunity is vanishing now. Today Bezos invests in robots like Baxter here. He costs $22,000. An entry-level packer would could cost at least twice that when you add-in benefits, vacations, sick-days, and coffee breaks…none of which Baxter requires. And Baxter can perform many of the factory floor tasks that humans do today. He generates human expressions on screen, moves as deftly about a maze of cubicles as he does the factory floor, and even weighs the same as the average man (165lbs).
Baxter is the brainchild of Rethink Robotics founder Rodney Brooks. He got the idea in China where he concluded that the outsourcing-to-China model was doomed once the wage gap began to close. Brooks noticed something else—many of the factory floor tasks could be performed easily by a robot and that’s when Baxter was conceived. Brooks invented Roomba the vacuum cleaning robot sensation so he has a history disrupting the mundane task industry.
As millions of robots takeover the factory floor and packing rooms—are they coming as replacement refs or liberators?
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