Order something from Amazon, and it’s likely a robot will help get it to you. The tech giant had 200,000 robotic vehicles moving goods through its U.S. warehouses by the holiday rush of 2019. That’s double what it had in 2018 and up from 15,000 in 2014. Amazon says it also doubled the number of warehouses where those wheeled robots operate, to 50 in 2019. The machines are speeding up delivery times and cutting costs, though there are concerns they’re also adding stress and strain to the jobs of warehouse workers.
Amazon’s robotic transformation has its roots in its $775 million purchase of Massachusetts startup Kiva Systems in 2012. Amazon’s rivals have taken note, helping to fuel an investment boom in warehouse robotics startups that ABI Research says reached $1.5 billion a year in 2015. Shopify spent $450 million in October to buy Massachusetts-based startup 6 River Systems, while Amazon acquired another robot-maker, Colorado-based Canvas Technology, earlier in the year. Both make robotic carts that are more autonomous than Amazon’s current lineup.