Read the profile on National Inventors Hall of Fame that inspired this case study, here.
Who: Raffaello D’Andrea, Mick Mountz and Peter Wurman
With the proliferation of e-commerce, keeping up with incoming orders and ensuring timely fulfillment and distribution presents a significant challenge for retailers large and small. To cut down on the time between the placement and shipment of an order, companies are exploring ways to streamline processes within distributions facilities – especially as the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted labor markets, manufacturing processes and supply chains.
Amazon Robotics started as the brainchild of three academics—Rafaello D’Andrea, Mick Mountz and Peter Wurman—in 2003. The three met while D’Andrea, who co-founded the systems engineering program at Cornell University, was on sabbatical at MIT. Recognizing the need for technology that could improve order fulfillment in distribution centers, D’Andrea, Mountz and Wurman set out to revolutionize the process. By 2005, the trio had designed and developed Kiva Systems, which utilizes thousands of autonomous mobile robots that navigate warehouse shelves, retrieve items to be shipped and deliver them to workers near their trucks. By eliminating the need for the workers to retrieve their own items, it drastically reduces an order’s shipping time and cuts down on costs.
When Amazon purchased the technology in 2012, Kiva Systems had a wide range of major retail clients including Walgreens, Zappos, Staples, Office Depot, Crate & Barrell, Saks 5th Avenue and The Gap.
The Role of Intellectual Property (IP):
Kiva Systems completely transformed order fulfillment. This innovative breakthrough and retailers’ ability to leverage it would not have been possible without strong intellectual property (IP) systems in place. IP rights—such as patents—incentivize cutting-edge innovation like Kiva Systems and also empower and protect upstart innovators like D’Andrea, Mountz and Wurman. Thanks to robust IP systems, the trio was able to confidently bring their invention to market without fear of their ideas being stolen and copied, and with the trust that they would be recognized and rewarded for their novel robotic solution.
Revolutionary innovations, like Kiva Systems, are incredibly important for progress and meeting pressing challenges that arise. Robust, certain, and predictable IP regimes are critical to ensure innovators are encouraged to pursue and develop potentially groundbreaking inventions, and to protect these innovations once they are developed. D’Andrea, Mountz and Wurman are a prime example of what’s possible with the power of IP.
Revolutionary innovations, like Kiva Systems, are incredibly important for progress and meeting pressing challenges that arise. Robust, certain, and predictable IP regimes are critical to ensure innovators are encouraged to pursue and develop potentially groundbreaking inventions, and to protect these innovations once they are developed.