Kiva Systems founders win innovation award

by Inside Logistics Online Staff
L-R: Mick Mountz, Peter Wurman and Raffaello D’Andrea.

LAS VEGAS — The founders of Kiva Systems, who are the inventors of mobile robotic material handling, have been announced as National Inventors Hall of Fame (NIHF) 2020 class of Inductees at CES this week.

In the early 2000s, Peter Wurman, Mick Mountz and Raffaello D’Andrea created the Kiva system, an entirely new approach for material handling in distribution centers that revolutionized warehouse order fulfillment. Kiva utilized thousands of mobile robots and sophisticated control software to bring inventory shelves to workers, significantly improving all areas of fulfillment center operations from safety and productivity to cycle time and throughput.

In 2002, while developing his idea to improve warehouse distribution efficiencies, Mountz contacted his former Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) roommate Wurman, then assistant professor of computer science at North Carolina State University, for software advice. They decided on a multi-agent software architecture run on centralized computers to track inventory and wirelessly command robots to perform delivery tasks.

D’Andrea, a robotics expert and professor from Cornell University, joined the company then known as Distrobot to develop the hardware layer. As chief technology officer, Wurman was responsible for the system architecture and decision-making algorithms that allocated the tasks and coordinated the motion of the robot fleet.

The company’s first customer was Staples, followed by dozens of others including Walgreens, whose fulfillment centre used over 1,000 robots. In 2012, Fast Company magazine ranked Kiva Systems as one of the most innovative companies in the world for their game-changing solutions using mobile robotics.

Later that year Amazon purchased Kiva and renamed the enterprise Amazon Robotics. At that time, Kiva had systems in more than 30 warehouses in North America and Europe.

“My passion for science and creating led me to a career in engineering,” said 2020 Inductee Raffaello D’Andrea, a pioneer of mobile robotic material handling for order fulfillment, professor at ETH Zurich and founder of Verity.

“It’s an honour to be recognized alongside Mick Mountz and Pete Wurman for our accomplishments at Kiva Systems.”

In an interview with the National Inventors Hall of Fame, Mountz shared that curiosity, experimentation and teamwork had been encouraged throughout his childhood. “Having parents that challenge you to play sports, pick leadership roles, be curious I think all of that contributes to how you move through your education process and then some of your career decisions as well.”