Amazon Has 2 New Ways to Replace Human Workers

By Daniel B. Kline Markets Fool.com

Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) already uses robots in its warehouses alongside human workers. Now, the online retailer has received two new patents to bring automated technology to another part of its delivery process as well as a warehouse function currently performed by people.

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The company has received patents from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) for a system that uses a shipping label that has a built-in parachute to allow for delivery via drone. In addition, Amazon has received a patent that pertains to a robotic janitor that could be used to clean its warehouse.

These two patents show that while Amazon employs nearly 350,000 people and said in January that it plans to create over 100,000 U.S. jobs over the next 18 months, it wants to also automate where it can. Both patents are examples of how the company is working to use technology to do things human workers can't while also taking some work away from people.

Amazon uses robots along with humans in its warehouses. Image source: Amazon.

What are the patents for?

The more interesting of the two patents involves a shipping label that has a built-in parachute. This would allow it to be dropped from an unmanned flying vehicle, or drone, a technology Amazon hopes to someday use to make deliveries.

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While it would look like a normal shipping label, the newly patented label would house a system of cords, a parachute, a breakaway cover and maybe a harness to hold everything in place. Sensors so it can find its landing spot and a shock absorber to cushion the landing would also be part of the apparatus.

The parachute label, while it seems far-fetched, is no more ridiculous than the idea of using drones for delivery, That concept once seemed like something that would never happen, but Amazon has clearly brought it closer to reality.

This new patent is simply another piece of the puzzle. It's probably not the only way the online retailer will deliver packages from drones to customers, but it's one possible solution.

The second patent covers the robot janitor that would be used to clean its warehouses. These robots would essentially be fancy versions of the floor-cleaning "robots," many people have in their homes, according to the USPTO document:

Robots or other machines may be used for retrieving errant objects from the floor of an automated warehouse. A system can include one or more reporting methods to alert a central control to the existence and location of an object on the warehouse floor.

Centralized control would allow for safety zones to be established, protecting any human workers as well as other robots. The janitor bots "can include a cleanup pod comprising a convertible shelving unit with a robotic arm,' according to the granted patent.

It's not the end of people

While Amazon is innovating when it comes to its use of robots, it's just trying to limit its use of people, not make major cuts to its workforce. Delivery via human is expensive and drones are designed to cut those costs down. In theory, they will also make sense in rural areas where it wont be as cost-effective for Amazon to send a truck.

The robotic janitor cleaning up after robot order pickers is a similarly smart innovation. It may cost a few people their jobs, but it's really just an enhancement to the existing labor force. Amazon is smartly pushing at boundaries here, looking for ways to use robots or automated technology that improve its overall process. Both of these, should they ever be actually implemented, accomplish that.

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Daniel Kline has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.