Amazon’s robots signal a sea change in how the things we buy will be aggregated, stored and delivered. The company requires one minute of human labor to get a package onto a truck, but that number is headed to zero. Autonomous warehouses will merge with autonomous manufacturing and delivery to form a fully automated supply chain.
We are in the early days of what might be called the “physical cloud,” an e-com-merce ecosystem that func-tions like the internet itself. Netflix caches the movies you stream at a data center physically close to you; Amazon is building warehouse after warehouse to store goods closer to consumers. And the storage systems at those warehouses are looking more like the data-storage systems in the cloud. Instead of storing similar items in the same place—a helpful practice when humans were fetching the goods—Amazon’s ware-houses store multiples of the same item at random loca-tions, known only to the robots. Trying to find an Instapot at one of Amazon’s warehouses would be like trying to find where in the cloud one of your emails is stored. Of course, you don’t have to. You just tap your screen and the email appears. No humans are involved.
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