Retailers are turning to ‘cobots’ to guarantee a high-yield holiday season

A growing number of retailers are turning to cobots -- robots that assist factory workers -- to address the holiday hiring crunch.


October 31, 2019

The holidays are just around the corner, which means it’s that time of year again: brightly lit lawn decorations, ugly sweaters, “We’re hiring!” signs at all the big retailers… 

The Wall Street Journal reports that some retailers are rolling out a new solution to the age-old holiday hiring crunch: They’re ordering huge fleets of collaborative robots — or “cobots” — to help address labor shortages.

’Tis the season for eggnog, latkes, and… cobots??

Every year, retailers struggle to find enough seasonal workers to satisfy the demand for last-minute gift buying. This year, a number of robotics companies are producing “surge robots” to help increase the efficiency of overburdened workforces.

These cobots use lasers, cameras, and other sensors to assist their human co-workers. They can direct their human counterparts to the proper aisles and shelves, or carry bins of items between workstations. 

Rakuten, the Japanese mega-retailer, used 40 robots for its Super Logistics division during last year’s holiday surge; this year, the company ordered 200 robots.

And the number of cobots is expected to rise

“It’s a strategy for holiday peak that worked so well in 2018 that we’ve ramped it up this year and bought 30% more,” Troy Cooper, president of XPO Logistics Inc., told the Journal.

Since American unemployment is at a 50-year low — and since many seasonal workers are over 55 and struggle to do jobs that involve heavy lifting — many analysts expect warehouse automation to accelerate.

In 2018, 3% of warehouses globally used commercial robots alongside their human-ployees. But by 2025, analysts predict that 27.6% of warehouses will employ commercial robots.

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