Retailers turn to robots to compete with Amazon.com

A Kiva robot in action

Amazon.com may be best known for its huge array of products or its Kindle digital reading device. But the Seattle online retailer has cleaned the clocks of many of its rivals by streamlining warehousing operations, allowing it to deliver products with unbelievable speed and accuracy.

Now, several of Amazon’s rivals are fighting back with robots.

Bloomberg News reports that Toys R Us, Walgreen and others are establishing new distribution centers that utilize robots to fulfill orders in record time.

Drugstore.com, which was acquired by Walgreen’s earlier this year, is reportedly establishing a new distribution center that utilizes robots from Kiva Systems. In fact, the companies announced their partnership back in February with drugstore.com’s Jon Axelsson saying at the time that Kiva would allow the online retailer to “handle a wide variety of products in a very efficient manner.”

Kiva robots have long been used by both Zappos and Quidsi (owner of Diapers.com), two companies that Amazon.com acquired in the past two years. Here’s how BusinessWeek recently described the systems:

In Kiva-run warehouses the robots continuously reorganize inventory based on order flow. For example, if there’s an uptick in sales of corduroy pants, the robots place those items closer to the workers. Less popular merchandise gets relocated deeper into the facility.

This revolution in packing and sorting is helping some retailers gain an edge in e-commerce, with Kiva recently saying that 12 of the top 100 retail brands now use its robot systems in their distribution facilities. Among its other customers are Dillard’s, Gilt Groupe and Office Depot.

But, can robots alone keep up with the mastermind of Jeff Bezos?

Well, Bezos — a super geek who is bankrolling a 10,000 year clock in Texas and just patented a system to put airbags into cell phones — also is into robots.

Last November, Bezos participated in the $20 million funding round for Heartland Robotics, a Massachusetts company created by iRobot co-founder Rodney Brooks that is setting out to build the “next-generation of industrial robots.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/efrizor Buntu Redempter

    Way to go Jeff!