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FedEx is embracing more robots, but that doesn’t mean people are getting fired (yet)


Machines in one of the shipping firm’s distribution centers are directly replacing human roles, but there are no pink slips in sight so far.

The news: The New York Times says that as part of a big bet on automation, the firm is using five autonomous “tuggers” to move large, oddly shaped items around a freight depot in North Carolina. They’re small vehicles, usually driven by humans, that pull big baskets on wheels.

What they do: The robotic tugs are akin to autonomous cars, using lasers and cameras to navigate and avoid obstacles. When package handlers have finished loading a driverless tug’s trailer, they hit a button and the vehicle finds its own way across the warehouse.

Jobs, jobs, jobs: Over time, the bots will replace 25 drivers at the facility. But FedEx adds 100 roles per year there and says it’s unlikely there will be net erosion of jobs, because so much of the work requires manual dexterity. The human role could change over time, though, as warehouse robots get better.