Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Epic Autonomous Robots Bring us a Step Closer to the Jetsons

Kiva Mobile Fulfillment Center - like Roombas on steroids!

Nearly every magazine that's ever featured a home or technology of the future article has predicted that we would have intelligent, fully independent robots performing most of our manual labor chores by now.  Sadly our progress has been very disappointing.

We still have to clean and vacuum.  We have to do laundry, shovel the snow, and mow the grass. And cooking is still a chore; we haven't invented a machine where you can press a button and a fully prepared meal materializes (although, the cell phone comes close to accomplishing this)

Yet, some small progress has been made.  In 2002, iRobot Corporation introduced
the Roomba, an autonomous robot vacuum cleaner.  Unfortunately, it isn't quite fully independent. It still requires a-lot of interaction from humans to perform its tasks. Owners find that they need to pre-scan the room and remove toys and other small objects to prevent it from getting stuck and disabling the Roombas.  Others report that they need to routinely cut off tangled hair caught up in the brushes.  Still, the consistent, thorough, daily cleaning that Roombas provide are a godsend to some people, such as pet owners.

The business world has advance a bit more. Meet the Kiva Mobile Fulfillment Center.  They've been described as Roombas on steroids!

The Kiva system consists of autonomous robots which lift and transport mobile shelves from trucks, to warehouse storage, to human work stations (where the contents are processed), then on to the next destination.  The robots follow sensors applied to the floor and computer software optimizes efficiency on transporting materials, queuing them at workstations, warehouse storage, and shipping schedules.

Zappos, one of the more famous companies that utilizes the Kiva system, claims that they reduce processing time from a minimum of 48 minutes to up to 3 hours, down to a consistent 12 minutes.  By optimizing warehouse storage and retrieval, it increases volume of items stored by 80%.  Plus, it drastically  improves safety, power consumption, noise pollution and employee training period.

It also provides some pretty Epic videos!

More reading on the business benefits of the Kiva System


  1. Oops, Zappos doesn't use KIVA anymore.

  2. Wow! Thanks for the update! . . . anyone interested in a slightly used Kiva MFC system?