Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) may have the process of shipping and distributing goods down pat, but there have been consequences along the way -- namely, worker injuries in warehouses and, more recently, a string of coronavirus outbreaks at the company's various distribution centers early on in the pandemic.
In fact, Amazon has come under fire many times for its mistreatment of warehouse workers.
Earlier this year, Amazon was sued by New York's attorney general for failing to implement social distancing practices in warehouses and maintain sanitary workplace conditions.
But now, Amazon is introducing new technology to help prevent workplace injuries. And it could really change the face of warehouses.
Bringing robots into the mix
Amazon is testing out several robots in warehouse environments, with the goal of reducing strenuous movements for workers, thereby preventing injuries. In May, the company announced a goal of reducing recordable incident rates by 50% by the year 2025, and it has plans to invest over $300 million into safety projects this year alone.
For now, Amazon is testing out four robots that can move items across its warehouses so workers can access them more easily. One robot named Ernie helps by removing items from a robotic shelf so employees don't have to take that step, and while that doesn't save time, it does make things safer.
Another robot named Bert, meanwhile, is one of Amazon's first Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs). Bert can move around independently even while workers are afoot and can take requests to move items across facilities, including heavier items with the potential to cause injury.
Scooter and Kermit are two other AMRs under development that will be able to transport carts. These robots could eventually take over the task of moving empty packages across facilities so that workers can focus on items requiring critical thinking skills.
Of course, the introduction of robots into warehouses may be met with mixed reviews. While increasing safety protocols is a good thing, there's also the fear of robots one day replacing humans and taking away their livelihood in the process.
But Amazon says that's not the goal. Rather, the objective is to bring in robots that make workers' lives easier and cut down the rate of injury. And the retail giant said it's added more than a million jobs worldwide since it began using robotics in its facilities back in 2012.
A big change for warehouses
Right now, Amazon is merely testing out different robots. But if the company finds that they're effective, robots could soon start popping up in warehouses all over the country, and other companies may, in turn, aim to adopt similar technology.
That could actually be a good thing for warehouse investors if robots prove to reduce the rate of on-the-job injuries. In fact, real estate investors should get excited about the idea of upgrading warehouse technologies in different forms. Warehouses generally aren't that expensive to operate, but if lawmakers increasingly impose safety regulations, the cost to run one could increase substantially in time. If robots are a means of getting ahead of that, it could save a lot of workers a lot of pain -- and save investors and warehouse operators a lot of money.