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’Tis the Season for Surge Robots as Holiday Hiring Finds Automation

The holiday hiring frenzy is under way and robots are joining the rush to seasonal jobs.

Retailers and logistics operators facing a tight labor market are ramping up automation at warehouses for the holidays, when online order volumes can surge tenfold as consumers load up digital shopping carts in the weeks around Thanksgiving and Christmas.

To cope, some businesses are ordering up extra fleets of collaborative robots, or “cobots,” that use cameras, lasers and sensors to navigate warehouse aisles and lead workers to the right shelves or to shuttle bins full of products between workstations. Many are available for lease.

Rick Faulk, chief executive of Wilmington, Mass.-based Locus Robotics Corp., said demand for what he calls “surge robots” to bolster the armies of seasonal warehouse workers has grown this year, and the company is sending more than 500 of them to its logistics and e-commerce customers.

“We are seeing customers taking delivery earlier, and keeping the bots longer,” Mr. Faulk said, as retailers look to the machines for help in filling online orders and restocking the shelves at their brick-and-mortar stores.

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