These are made by kiva systems: www.kivasystems.com
Recently, Amazon has announced that it will acquire Kiva Systems for $775 million in cash. The deal is expected to close in the second quarter of 2012.
Wired has an interesting article about it too. According to this article on Analog Devices' website, the robots use vision to recognize markers on the floor and under the shelves to localize themselves.
Features of the system includes:
- after a while, shelves with most demanded articles end up on the border of the warehouse, more readily available than less often asked for items. This increases efficiency, and it's an emerging outcome of the system: no need for optimization of the layout.
- since the robots can work just as well in the dark, only certain parts of the warehouse have to be illuminated, where the human operators are working, thus reducing electricity consumption (but it probably does make up for the energy consumed by the robots...)
- I like the collaboration between robots and human. It would have been very costly and actually impossible to have humanoid robots go around the warehouse and collect the items on the shelf. Although this would have been more intuitive (more human like), it is a much better idea to move the shelves around. Great out of the box thinking here..!
"Depending on how you want to think about it, it was funny or inevitable or symbolic that the robotic takeover did not start at MIT, NASA, Microsoft or Ford. It started at a Burger-G restaurant in Cary, NC on May 17. It seemed like such a simple thing at the time, but May 17 marked a pivotal moment in human history."