Amazon recently announced it purchased robot maker Kiva Systems for $775 million. The move will bring an army of little orange robots into Amazon's warehouse-sized fulfillment centers in move that will have the 'bots working alongside humans.
According to a report published last September, it's estimated that some Amazon employees in fulfillment centers can walk between 13 to 15 miles a day picking items from shelves and delivering them to other employees, who handle the packing. The efficacy of this depends on the person doing the picking. With the robots automating the picking process, it is estimated that a packer will be able to fulfill three to four times more orders per hour.
The orange Kiva robots will operate by moving through Amazon's warehouses and bringing the appropriate shelves to the worker. They will also handle the backend, moving boxes of completed orders to the loading dock.
The video below, which is a visit to Kiva by IEEE Spectrum's Erico Guizzo, shows the orange bots moving purposefully around with stacks of books, and by all accounts it looks like they will stand up to the rigors of the job.
What is not clear is how much this change in fulfillment technology will require Amazon to retool its warehouses in terms of specialized shelving or aisles for the new robots, or what it means for employees who currently handle picking. Whatever the cost may be, it is likely to be worth it for them in terms of efficiency and employee health and welfare.
There's also a question about whether or not Amazon will share Kiva Systems' robots. The robots are already used by shoe retailer Zappos, but whether Amazon plans to expand the robotic orange army and Kiva's operations is up in the air.