Computing Community Consortium Blog

The goal of the Computing Community Consortium (CCC) is to catalyze the computing research community to debate longer range, more audacious research challenges; to build consensus around research visions; to evolve the most promising visions toward clearly defined initiatives; and to work with the funding organizations to move challenges and visions toward funding initiatives. The purpose of this blog is to provide a more immediate, online mechanism for dissemination of visioning concepts and community discussion/debate about them.


“Amazon Adds That Robotic Touch”

March 23rd, 2012 / in Research News / by Erwin Gianchandani

The Wall Street Journal features a story about Amazon.com’s purchase this week of robot company Kiva Systems, Inc., providing a glimpse into some of the many computing research advances — in robotics, machine intelligence, and optimization — that have enabled Kiva’s $775 million success story. According to the WSJ article:

Kiva Systems, Inc., robots shown last year moving through an Acumen Brands, Inc., warehouse in Fayetteville, Ark. [image courtesy The Wall Street Journal].Amazon.com Inc., said Monday it is buying Kiva Systems, Inc., which makes robots used in shipping centers. The $775 million acquisition comes as Amazon continues its heavy spending on fulfillment centers to help fuel its business…

 

With Kiva, Amazon is now looking at a more automated approach. The robots are already used by two websites that Amazon has acquired: shoe-retailer Zappos.com and baby-products site Diapers.com.

 

Kiva’s robots bring the product shelves to a warehouse worker, rather than a worker walking to the shelves. The robots locate the items in a customer’s order, move the products around warehouses and help get packed boxes to a final loading dock.

 

The robots — squat, orange cubes — zip around shipping centers loaded with inventory shelves stacked several feet into the air above them. The robots can be tailored to each particular client, with customized software.

 

“Kiva’s technology is another way to improve productivity by bringing the products directly to employees to pick, pack and stow,” said Dave Clark, Amazon’s vice president of global customer fulfillment.

So how do KIva’s robots run a warehouse? According to the WSJ (following the link):

  • To complete an order, Kiva’s squat orange robots fetch tall movable shelves, or pods, that have the items needed, bringing them to the human “picker.”
  • A laser pointer tells the human which item needs to be picked from each shelf. The worker, who stays in one place, scans a bar code to confirm it is the right item. It’s placed in the order box, which sits on another one of the mobile pods.
  • New pods arrive steadily with additional items as needed. Items are grouped together to fulfill the orders.
  • Pods filled with completed orders are taken by the robots to the shipping door, where a human tapes them closed in preparation for final transport.

Kiva was founded in 2003 by its chief executive, Mick Mountz, who previously served as an executive at Apple, Inc.,and Webvan.

Having witnessed the need for rapid order fulfillment, Mr. Mountz started Kiva along with Peter Wurman, who had been an associate professor of computer science at North Carolina State, and Raffaello D’Andrea, a professor of engineering at ETH Zurich.

To read more, check out the WSJ article or watch the two videos below — one from the WSJ and the other from the 2011 Wired Business Conference, featuring Mountz describing Kiva’s game-changing automation technology.

(Contributed by Erwin Gianchandani, CCC Director)

“Amazon Adds That Robotic Touch”