Amazon to Roll Out Automated Packing Machines, Offers $10k for Employees to Become Gig Workers

Gif: CMC Machinery/YouTube

Amazon plans to introduce new packaging machines at its warehouses that could eliminate 1,300 jobs nationwide, according to a new report from Reuters. Coincidentally or not, Amazon also announced this morning that it was launching a new program to encourage some existing Amazon warehouse employees to quit and start their own businesses delivering Amazon goods.

The new machine, called the Carton Wrap 1000 and produced by Italian firm CMC Machinery, is designed to create custom box sizes and package orders automatically, as you can see from the GIF above. The machine measures the ordered goods, folds the cardboard, cuts the boxes down to size, prints the shipping labels, and sends each package off for delivery.

The Carton Wrap machines are expected to be rolled out to 55 warehouses across the U.S., and will likely displace roughly 24 workers at each facility, according to Reuters. The new machines can reportedly pack boxes 4 to 5 times faster than a human.

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“We are piloting this new technology with the goal of increasing safety, speeding up delivery times, and adding efficiency across our network,” an Amazon spokesperson in the company’s robotics department told Gizmodo via email. “We expect the efficiency savings will be re-invested in new services for customers, where new jobs will continue to be created.”

Amazon often downplays layoffs at its warehouses because the company has acquired millions of dollars in tax breaks from local governments over the years on the promise that it was creating jobs.

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Amazon has also announced that it would launch a new program to encourage existing warehouse employees to quit and start their own businesses delivering packages for Amazon. The initiative, an expansion of what it calls the Delivery Service Partner program, will offer existing employees the equivalent of three months of their gross salary and up to $10,000 for company costs to create what Amazon calls a “startup” that delivers packages.

Where would that $10,000 in startup funds go? Ex-employees who want to create their own startups can lease Amazon-branded vans and branded uniforms. The ex-employees would no longer be covered under things like Amazon’s new $15 minimum wage nor would they be eligible for health benefits.

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Gizmodo asked Amazon what the thinking was behind getting existing employees into this program rather than encouraging new employees to come on board. Amazon said that it’s an extension of their work to “empower” existing employees.

“Amazon has a long history of creating programs that empower employees to pursue their career aspirations and are excited to launch this new offering exclusively for employees to take the next step in their career and build their own delivery businesses,” Amazon public relations manager Amanda Ip told Gizmodo via email. “Successful business leaders think big, have a bias for action, and deliver results on behalf of our customers.”

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“These principles are practiced daily by Amazonians and we are excited to offer this opportunity for employees to take the next step in their career to become a small business owner,” Ip continued. “That said, any aspiring entrepreneur who wants to start their own package delivery can!”

Amazon has been trying to build out its existing delivery network to allow for faster delivery in areas where it offers next-day and same-day shipping, but it’s also trying to compete with the U.S. Postal Service and UPS.

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But wait, you may be thinking to yourself, isn’t this just an effort by Amazon to offload responsibility for delivery employees and instead create an army of people who look like they work for Amazon, complete with branded trucks and uniforms, but who don’t actually work for Amazon? Yes, and the company has been using these kinds of tactics for a very long time.

We just can’t wait until they try this new tactic in space. You definitely won’t have to offer health benefits on Elysium.

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Update, 2:45pm ET: Updated with comment from Amazon’s robotics department.

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About the author

Matt Novak

Matt Novak is the editor of Gizmodo's Paleofuture blog