Mind / Iron
by Bryan Bergeron, Editor ;
Carpet Roamers Come of Age
Amazon’s commitment to acquire Kiva Systems for $775M this past March
traveled like a shockwave through the robotics industry. Finally — a commercial
application of a mobile robotic platform made the big time. I’m not talking
about the occasional mail delivery robot found in a large office building or a pair
of drug delivery robots working in the pharmacy wing of a hospital, but swarms
of robots in huge warehouses tasked with time-critical transport of everything
from books to bowling balls. If the robots prove successful at supporting
Amazon’s massive volume of orders, then robots from Kiva Systems (or a
competing company) are destined for a warehouse near you.
To see these robots in action, take a look at the videos on the Kiva Systems
website at www.kivasystems.com. The bright orange robots (which resemble
the external fuel tanks for outboard motor boats) each support modular
warehouse-style racks. Although I haven’t seen the official technical
specifications, the robots and racks seem capable of supporting at least
100 pounds, as long as the weight is distributed evenly on the shelves of the
six foot tall racks.
The videos are worth viewing, if only to illustrate an alternative way for a
mobile robot delivery platform to operate. For example, instead of simply
picking an item from a shelf and bringing it to a human packer, the Kiva robots
bring entire shelves to the packer, in the order in which their contents are
needed. Humans stand at predefined spots, unload the shelves, and the robot
then moves the shelves to strategic locations in the warehouse. In other words,
the warehouse is dynamically reconfigured to suit the current inventory, the
needs of the human packers, and the particular orders placed by customers.
According to Kiva marketing statements, moving the shelves of products to
stationary human packers instead of having humans hunt through rows of
shelves is two to three times faster. The question, of course, is whether that will
result in pink slips for two out of three warehouse workers or faster delivery of
Amazon products. I suspect the answer is some combination of the two, at
least initially. Long-term, I give the edge to the robots and the associated servers
and software. Robots don’t demand medical care, and don’t pass out in the
middle of the summer when warehouse temperatures are above 100 degrees.
While I have sympathy for the warehouse
workers that might be displaced, I hope the
Kiva-Amazon solution is successful. It would
portend a bright future for robotics technicians,
engineers, and enthusiasts. Consider that every
sizeable warehouse will need a technician or
two to maintain and repair the fleet of robots
and associated computer equipment.
Furthermore, companies like Kiva need
engineers to continue innovating.
Of course, like other enthusiasts, I’m
eagerly awaiting the time when these
commercial systems are readily available as
affordable commercial platforms on eBay.
I’m not sure what I would do with one or two
of the beasts — maybe moving furniture around
so that my robotic vacuum cleaner can do a
Perhaps you have a better idea? If so,
please consider sharing it with our readers. SV
Published Monthly By
T & L Publications, Inc.
430 Princeland Ct., Corona, CA 92879-1300
FAX (951) 371-3052
Webstore Only 1-800-783-4624
Toll Free 1-877-525-2539
Outside US 1-818-487-4545
P.O. Box 15277, N. Hollywood, CA 91615
VP OF SALES/MARKETING
Jeff Eckert Jenn Eckert
Tom Carroll David Geer
Dennis Clark R. Steven Rainwater
Kevin Berry Gordon McComb
Michael Ferguson Fred Eady
Pete Smith Dave Graham
Andrea Suarez Chris Olin
The HRLV- MaxSonar Sensors
$PD]LQJ;2QH;0LOOLPH WHU;5HVROX WLRQ
6LPXO WDQHRXV;0XOWLSOH;6HQVRU;2SHUD WLRQ
2X WSX WV;QRZ;LQFOXGH;77/;6HULDO
Copyright 2012 by
T & L Publications, Inc.
All Rights Reserved
All advertising is subject to publisher’s approval.
We are not responsible for mistakes, misprints,
or typographical errors. SERVO Magazine assumes
no responsibility for the availability or condition of
advertised items or for the honesty of the
advertiser. The publisher makes no claims for the
legality of any item advertised in SERVO. This is the
sole responsibility of the advertiser.Advertisers and
their agencies agree to indemnify and protect the
publisher from any and all claims, action, or expense
arising from advertising placed in SERVO. Please
send all editorial correspondence, UPS, overnight
mail, and artwork to: 430 Princeland Court,
Corona, CA 92879.
Printed in the USA on SFI & FSC stock.
6 SERVO 06.2012