Kiva Systems is an Amazon company that makes order fulfillment systems that use mobile robots for warehouse automation. Its material handling systems are used by Staples, Walgreens, GAP, Crate and Barrel, Toys "R" Us and Gilt Groupe, among others. It was founded by Mick Mountz  and technical co-founders Peter Wurman and Raffaello D'Andrea.
Traditionally, goods are moved around a distribution center using conveyors, or by human operators with tow racks or forklifts. In Kiva's approach, goods are kept on portable storage units. When an order for an item arrives, battery-powered robots (called drive units) are guided by a computerized control system to fetch the order. They follow a grid system of 2D bar codes on the floor to navigate their way to mobile shelves containing the desired inventory. When the drive unit reaches the correct location on the warehouse floor, it positions itself beneath a pod and lifts it from the ground in a corkscrew action. The unit is then guided to a human packer on the periphery of the floor who takes the process over from there. The pod then picks up a pod from a previous delivery, replaces it on the floor by reversing the corkscrew action and is then free to work on another mission.
Kiva has two models of robots. The smaller model is approximately 2 feet by 2.5 feet, and one foot high and capable of lifting 1000 pounds. The larger model can carry pallets and loads as heavy as 3,000 pounds. Both are a distinctive orange color. The maximum velocity of a robot is 1.3 meters per second. The robots navigate around the warehouse using an onboard camera to read barcode stickers on the warehouse floor. They communicate wirelessly to computer servers that run order-processing software and deliver directions.
Kiva's relatively new approach to automated material handling systems for order fulfillment is gaining traction in eCommerce fulfillment, retail restocking, parts distribution and medical device distribution operations. The system is much more efficient and accurate than the traditional method of having human workers traveling around the warehouse locating and picking items.
Acquisition by Amazon
Amazon hasn't announced any new Kiva customers in the first year and a half since the acquisition, and has shed sales and marketing positions. Industry observers speculate that Amazon is focusing on internal operations and don't have much interest in sharing the technology with competitors.
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- "Three Engineers, Hundreds of Robots, One Warehouse — IEEE Spectrum".
- Steiner, Christopher (16 March 2009). "Bot-In-Time Delivery — Forbes.com".
- "Warehousing and Distribution Centers: Zappos.com goes Space Age".
- Fitzgerald, Drew (March 19, 2012). "Amazon to Buy Robot Company Kiva for $775 Million". The Wall Street Journal.
- "Amazon.Com Inc, SEC Form 8-K.". U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. May 1, 2012.
- "Acquisition puts Amazon rivals in awkward spot".
- Kiva Systems official web site
- Demonstration video
- Exclusive From Gilt Groupe: Flash Sales, Flash Delivery, Apparel Magazine
- "Disruptive By Design: Freakin’ Cool Robots", Wired Magazine
- Toys ‘R’ Us Deploys Robots as Retailers Seek to Catch Amazon, Bloomberg.com
- History Channel and Discovery Channel videos
- Robots: Warehouse Robots podcast
- DC Velocity Zappos video
- Staples Robotic Retrievers by Internet Archive