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.