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Word Count: 338
Avis Walton is used to being told where to go and what to do once he gets there As a picker for 99 Cents Only Stores Walton spends his 5 am-to-330 pm shift cruising around a 750000-square-foot distribution center in Katy Texas in an electric cart responding to a stream of spoken instructions Go to row 12 section 8 bin 31 an authoritative womans voice in his ear commands and Walton zips to row 12 Blip-blip He scans the bin tag with a wireless handheld computer to confirm hes arrived at the right place Pick two cases plus four items the voice continues Beginning to break a sweat 24-year-old Walton lifts two cases of vinyl tablecloths onto a pallet rips open a third box and removes four more tablecloths Confirm pick he says into his microphone thus prompting the voice to send him zipping off on another assignment Doesnt her bossiness get annoying Nah shes cool Walton says She tells me what to do and I tell her when I do it Perhaps if this voice were that of a human Walton might take offense But the she that he and his 15 fellow pickers interact with throughout their shifts is actually the computer-generated voice of the distribution centers warehouse-management software Like a digital flight controller the as-yet-unnamed voice sends squads of pickers scurrying to gather the items needed by individual stores all the while quietly calculating the most efficient routes that will also prevent them crashing into one another At the same time the voice tells the pickers which bins need replenishment and where they can find the stock to do so Roaring away overhead is a mechanized conveyor system worthy of any airports luggage- handling operation Pickers run along four levels of a massive series of racks each shoving cases of product into the conveyor system laser scanners read box tags to verify that each case is following the correct path to
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