In its continuing effort to make itself the most efficient and cost effective shipper of everything on the planet to everyone on the planet, Amazon recently purchased Kiva Systems. Kiva Systems will in turn, make automated robotic warehouses to speed up the picking and plucking of items in Amazon’s many locations worldwide so you can get that fifty gallon tub of lube to your door that much sooner.
Here’s how the Kiva system works:
It has three components: Small, wheeled retrieval robots; tall upright racks — which the company calls “pods;” and human workers. The whole system is designed to make warehouse stock mobile, meaning that humans simply interact with the stock as its brought to them.
Said workers, called a “pick workers,” stand in designated “pick areas.” Kiva robots roll in with racks of empty boxes on their pod, and line up in front of a special rack. As orders come in, the Kiva software assigns them a box, and indicates to the pick worker which box to place the items on. To get those items, Kiva robots bring pods of warehouse stock to the worker. Once they arrive, a laser pointer indicates which item the pick worker needs to take.
Once the worker retrieves the item, he or she scans it into the system, which then indicates which outgoing box to place it in. The worker does so, and confirms the placement on the box rack. As orders are completed, the robots whisk the filled boxes away to the shipping area. The flexibility of the Kiva system means that it can bring boxes to delivery bays as the workers are ready for them.
Out on the warehouse floor, everything is in motion. Kiva robots navigate to pods of products using a navigational grid on the floor, trying to drive under the standing racks as much as possible. This leaves “highways” between pods open for robots carrying pods, giving them fast and direct access to human pick workers. To pick up a pod, the small orange robots speed under the rack and rotate themselves extending a lifting pad corkscrew style. This gives the robot a wide, stable platform to carry the pods.
Ingeniously, the Kiva software system takes full advantage of a mobile warehouse stock by dynamically repositioning pods based on what remains on them. For instance, the Kiva software moves less popular or depleted pods away from the pick areas, bringing more active pods forward and allowing for faster fulfillment.
It will eliminate some human jobs, but new jobs will be created in their place. Someone’s got to keep the systems running and the robots humming, and in the end it’s all about overhead and speed.