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Meet Ernie and Bert, Amazon’s latest robotic helpers

Ernie and Bert may soon be sorting out your Amazon orders.

The two new robots — yes, they’re robots — are currently being put through their paces at Amazon’s Robotics and Advanced Technology labs in Seattle, Boston, and northern Italy, ahead of expected deployment at its delivery centers.

Ernie works from a fixed position and uses a robotic arm to lift a tote — or container — from a stack before placing it in front of a worker. Ernie’s ability to easily reach low down or high up can help reduce the number of strenuous movements made by staff, cutting the risk of injury.

Commenting on the new robot’s potential, Kevin Keck, Amazon’s worldwide director of advanced technology, said: “The innovation with a robot like Ernie is interesting because while it doesn’t make the process go any faster, we’re optimistic, based on our testing, it can make our facilities safer for employees.”

You can see Ernie in action in the video below:

"Ernie" supports employees by delivering totes

Bert, meanwhile, is more mobile, moving around the warehouse using cameras and sensors to find its way. The self-driving robot can be summoned by a worker and programmed to carry packages between locations inside the facility. Without requiring a human to push or drive the machine across the floor, workers will have more time to focus on other tasks. Bert is a little on the small side at the moment, but after testing, a larger version could be designed for transporting bulkier and heavier items. Watch Bert trundling about the test center in the video below.

"Bert" carries items across an Amazon warehouse

Amazon is also developing Scooter and Kermit, two more self-driving robots capable of carrying packages and empty totes.

Amazon says deploying robots “can make our facilities safer,” adding that they also “enable our employees to focus on jobs that require their critical thinking skills,” a comment apparently aimed at those who see Amazon warehouse jobs as mundane and unfulfilling.

While there are valid concerns about how robots have the potential to completely transform the global job market in the coming years, the online shopping giant claims that many of the machines that it already uses assist rather than replace their human counterparts. In fact, it says that since introducing its first robots to Amazon delivery centers in 2012, the company has added more than a million human jobs at its facilities.

Outside of the warehouse, Amazon also has plans to use these robots to deliver orders to your door, with drone delivery also a possibility.

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Trevor Mogg
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