In the battle between man and machine, the robots just scored a victory in the world of e-commerce.
Amazon.com Inc. AMZN +0.25% said Monday it is buying Kiva Systems Inc., which makes robots used in shipping centers. The $775 million acquisition comes as Amazon continues its heavy spending on fulfillment centers to help fuel its business.
While the Seattle-based retailer has used some automation in its fulfillment centers in the past, it has depended heavily on people, hiring thousands during the holidays to cruise through football-field sized warehouses to pick items from shelves.
With Kiva, Amazon is now looking at a more automated approach. The robots are already used by two websites that Amazon has acquired: shoe-retailer Zappos.com and baby-products site Diapers.com.
Kiva’s robots bring the product shelves to a warehouse worker, rather than a worker walking to the shelves. The robots locate the items in a customer’s order, move the products around warehouses and help get packed boxes to a final loading dock.
The robots—squat, orange cubes—zip around shipping centers loaded with inventory shelves stacked several feet into the air above them. The robots can be tailored to each particular client, with customized software.