Robotic automation processing has been streamlining workflow production in warehouses for years. And while these digital innovations have helped businesses steadily improve supply chain optimization, they have also consistently raised concerns, specifically among factory and other workers. Now, the latest debate about artificial intelligence threatening the job security of United States employees is hitting the transportation industry.
The Wall Street Journal reported that one of the biggest ports in America, the Port of Los Angeles, has begun using robotic technology for cargo handling at its
How cargo robotics work
As explained by the source, these autonomous machines, also known as "straddle carriers," load and unload cargo containers from ships and transport them around the terminal. Using robotic cranes, they are able to pick up loads and bring them to organizing stations to, eventually, be picked up again and loaded onto truck beds.
The machines operate on magnetic grids that are embedded in the pavement and are directed by workers in the terminal office, who are able to control where and what the stacking cranes pick up and where they drop objects, using cameras installed on the cranes.
Peter Stone, a
Robots raise workforce worries
Although the robots have the power to reduce labor costs and enhance cargo handling efficiency, not everyone is happy about them. Many have argued against free-trade deals in the U.S., arguing that it would limit the job market for American workers and this technology will likely only fuel these fears.
The Atlantic recently revealed that a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center found that the majority, 65 percent, of Americans predict that within the next 50 years, robots will likely handle most of the tasks that humans are responsible for today and, of those worried about their job security, laborers were the most threatened.
Both the West Coast's International Longshore and Warehouse Union have permitted the robotic systems in contracts, but have not come to an agreement about exactly how the automation should be used, according to The Wall Street Journal. International Longshore and Warehouse Union's Local 13 President Bobby Olvera Jr. told the source that it has sought to "ensure there's a future for workers" and define "minimum manning standards."
Another concern is how expensive the technology systems are. The Wall Street Journal revealed that installing the automation in the TraPac terminal will cost about $1 billion to complete in its entirety and the return on investment is still unclear. The source added that union resistance has led to ports in the U.S. being slower to implement the robotic automation systems and that there has been ongoing debate over preserving longshore jobs, since adding positions increases operational expenses.
Terminal automation and labor job market outlook
Although the use of this machine technology could reduce the amount of
Aethon recently pointed out that the President's Council of Economic Advisors annual report has suggested some ways in which the technology can help, not hurt, the conventional workforce in America. For example, it can lead to productivity growth which can provide employees with better education and training, working conditions and even higher wages. By delegating the menial tasks to robotics, laborers can focus on areas of the business that consist of "higher-value work."
The source pointed out that robotic systems should complement, not substitute for, the workforce and that history has not shown any strong correlation between an increase in automation and the loss of worker employment. On the contrary, it has changed the nature of laborers' responsibilities in a way that has resulted in more job opportunities and higher pay.