Amazon acquires automated material handling vendor Kiva Systems

Amazon has a press release on the acquisition of Kiva Systems. to Acquire Kiva Systems, Inc.

SEATTLE--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Mar. 19, 2012--, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) today announced that it has reached an agreement to acquireKiva Systems, Inc., a leading innovator of material handling technology.

“Amazon has long used automation in its fulfillment centers, and Kiva’s technology is another way to improve productivity by bringing the products directly to employees to pick, pack and stow,” said Dave Clark, vice president, global customer fulfillment, “Kiva shares our passion for invention, and we look forward to supporting their continued growth.”

“For the past ten years, the Kiva team has been focused on creating innovative material handling technologies,” said Mick Mountz, CEO and founder of Kiva Systems. “I’m delighted that Amazon is supporting our growth so that we can provide even more valuable solutions in the coming years.”

Most of you have probably never heard of Kiva Systems.  I have.  Why?  Because, I used to be a distribution logistics geek.  I studied the subject in college. Worked in Distribution Logistics and packaging engineering at HP.  Apple actually hired me for my distribution logistics expertise away from HP and I worked on Apple's distribution system for years before moving to hardware product development and software product development.

One of the things that distribution logistics teaches you is supply chain management principles.  When I worked on hardware development the connection is obvious. Working on software, I would think of bits and information as a supply chain issue as the bits move.  The data center is a factory to support the movement of bits in a supply chain.  It is interesting when you start to think of things as abstractions that are simply bits of information.

So, who is Kiva Systems and why are they so interesting.  Kiva moves material to the person on robotic carts.  The software is quite intelligent to keep the fast moving items closest to the material handlers, and move the slow moving items further away.  This is no different than storage and caching issues in an operating system.

Read more about Kiva implementations in these markets.

The WSJ does a pretty good job of giving background on Kiva Systems

Robots on the March

How Kiva's robots run a warehouse

  • 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.

But, here is an easier way to understand what Kiva System is.

Here is a TED talk by the founder.


Here is a IEEE Spectrum video on YouTube.


This will make for fun conversations with some of friends who work on logistics. most likely figured out how much more efficient it is to move material with robots.  The old way of thinking about robots is like this video.