Amazon warehouse workers could soon be joined by a couple new co-workers: Ernie and Bert.
Those are the names of the new robots Amazon is testing with the goal of reducing strenuous movements for workers.
While the introduction of robots to the workplace often raises questions about whether human jobs will be replaced, Amazon argues they simply allow workers to focus on tasks that most need their attention while minimizing their potential for injury. Amazon said it’s added over a million jobs around the world since it began using robotics in its facilities in 2012.
In May, Amazon announced a goal of reducing recordable incident rates by 50% by 2025. It plans to invest over $300 million into safety projects this year.
Amazon described in a blog post Sunday four robots it’s testing to move items across its fulfillment centers and closer to workers.
Ernie helps remove items from a robotic shelf so employees don’t have to. The process doesn’t save time, Amazon said in the post, but testing has so far indicated it could make work safer for employees.
Bert is one of Amazon’s first Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs), made to navigate facilities independently, even while workers are moving around. Unlike other robots, Bert would not need to remain in a restricted space, meaning workers could ask it to take items across a facility. Amazon said Bert could eventually move heavier items.
Scooter and Kermit are two other AMRs under development that transport carts. Amazon said these types of robots could take over workers’ tasks of moving empty packages across facilities so they can focus on activities requiring critical thinking skills and reduce physically strenuous work.
Kermit, which follows magnetic tape to move empty totes, is further along in development, Amazon said, and will be introduced in at least a dozen North American sites this year. Amazon said it plans to deploy Scooter in at least one facility this year.