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October 16, 2018

Tokyo robotic warehouse needs almost no human workers

by John_A

Truth is, robots have been doing the work of humans in some industries for years now, though recent advances in technology suggest we’re on course for massive and rapid changes in the workplace.

Take Uniqlo. The Japanese clothing giant this week unveiled a warehouse in Tokyo that’s almost entirely powered by robot technology.

The system is so effective that it’s enabled Uniqlo to remove 90 percent of the people that worked there before the warehouse was given its high-tech makeover. The company also notes how the warehouse has the potential to operate nonstop around the clock, save for the occasional maintenance work.

A video (above) of the warehouse in action shows large robotic arms moving sets of crates onto conveyor belts, where they join others whizzing their way to storage or for further sorting prior to shipping.

The technology scans electronic tags for identification and also to confirm the site’s stock numbers and other data. Prior to shipping items, Uniqlo’s system uses cardboard to wrap the products before sticking on delivery labels.

The video shows just one human worker, placing a red garment into a cardboard box. No, it probably won’t be too long before the remaining employees receive a tap on the shoulder from a robot that can do the job more far more efficiently. Though probably not this one.

The new warehouse was designed and built in partnership with logistics company Daifuku. Uniqlo’s parent company, the aptly named Fast Retailing, plans to invest 100 billion yen (about $890 million) to convert all of its warehouses in Japan and the 11 countries around the world where it operates.

Another high-profile company that’s steadily introducing robot technology to its warehouses is Amazon. Digital Trends took up a recent invitation to see one of its high-tech sites in operation, and we were blown away by what we saw. Check out the thousands of so-called “drive units” that carry products around the warehouse and which are described by the company as “great dancers” for their remarkable nimbleness as they navigate their way around. Alongside the robotic drive units, Amazon’s facility in Kent, Washington, still employs several thousand humans, though further technological advances will see that figure fall over time.

So, warehouse jobs are pretty much taken care of. Check out what other jobs may be on the line as robots continue to get smarter.

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