New Amazon hire isn't worried about his 5,000 new robot colleagues

Krystal Hu

Christopher Musco landed a job at Amazon’s fulfillment center in Robbinsville, New Jersey on Wednesday, and he can’t wait to meet his new colleagues — 5,000 robots.

“I’ll be working with the robots, mechanics and machines. It’s a really high-tech building and it’s definitely one of the finest I’ve ever seen,” the 22-year-old told Yahoo Finance, noting that he was impressed after a tour of the multilevel, 1.2 million-square-foot warehouse.

We visited one of the 10 job fairs Amazon recently held throughout the US, and robots were definitely a highlight. While hundreds of applicants waited in line, a screen displayed videos of how robots work. “It’s really exciting to see the robots. It’s fun. I promise,” an Amazon employee told applicants while they waited for a tour.

Amazon’s increasing its human and robot workforce

Lines outside Amazon’s giant fulfillment center in Robbinsville, New Jersey. (Krystal Hu/Yahoo Finance)

Inside the warehouse, applicants saw how robots move around shelves to the pick-up station for workers. The facility is expecting to add hundreds of positions to the current 4,500 employees in the Robbinsville fulfillment center.

While Amazon is hiring humans for its warehouses around the US, the e-commerce titan is also betting on robots. Last year, 45,000 robots worked alongside Amazon associates in more than 20 fulfillment centers, a 50% increase from 2015. At the same time, human employees also rose 48% to 341,400.

The latest numbers shows the investment in robotics is speeding up. Since this May, the company added roughly 20,000 robots in over 25 fulfillment centers worldwide. The shift began when Amazon bought Kiva Systems, a robotics company and later rolled out Kiva’s robots to automate the picking and packing process in 2014.

A worker in one of Amazon’s fulfillment centers.

“It was something I’ve seen in the movies. It was great to see them at work,” Shaheryar Abbasi, a Pennsylvania State University graduate who just got a job in operations, told Yahoo Finance. “They’re pretty pretty organized. Working with them will be really exciting.”

Will warehouse jobs diminish like manufacturing jobs?

Despite the optimism shared by several new hires, robots have in fact been displacing some workers in the US, at least in the manufacturing industry. Roughly 85% of the US manufacturing job losses between 2000 and 2010 were due to automation, according to a study by the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University.

And Amazon’s “smart house” is already testing the limit of human-machine collaboration. “The way Amazon is doing this is specifically creating two distinct zones: One is primarily a robot zone and the other one is primarily a human zone. There’s a very focused point where these zones come together and they exchange the products,” Vikash Kumar, a roboticist at OpenAI, told Yahoo Finance. “Over the time, the robot zone will expand and come closer to the human as the robot’s capability grows.”

That doesn’t seem to be a concern to Musco for now. The former pizza-delivery man feels it’s safer to work with robots, because there is less room for “human errors.”

“There are certain things human can do but robots can’t. I’m not worried about being replaced by robots,” he said. “In the end, you need that human touch.”

Krystal Hu covers e-commerce for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter

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