The online retail giant Amazon acquired Kiva Technologies 2012 and began implementing the use of robots to help stack boxes in its fulfillment centers. Now, worldwide more than 100,000 robots glide around 1-million-square-foot fulfillment center floors with packages, saving time for shipments in the process.
The next generation of robots’ design was taken on by engineer Dragan Pajevic, and Amazon needed him to make the bots shorter, stronger and smarter, according to an Amazon blog post.
“The first-gen robots are a foot tall, but the goal for the next-gen robots was to cut their height to 9 or 10 inches,” Amazon’s post read. “Many fulfillment centers are more than one million square feet – about 28 football fields, making these buildings a fight for space. So designing a smaller bot would, in turn, open up more space for inventory, making smaller buildings feasible and enabling faster shipping times and better prices for customers.”
The engineering team designed a new robot that cut the height to 7.75 inches, containing 50 percent fewer components, according to the blog post. The next generation bot, named Hercules or H Drive for short, can lift 500 pounds more than the first gen robot at a staggering 1,250-pound lift limit.
“Complicated things are not necessarily better than simple things,” Pajevic said. “And sometimes it’s more difficult to design things to be simple versus complex.
Tye Brady, chief technologist at Amazon, said he always looks for ways to maintain the entrepreneurial spirit at Amazon.
“If you have interesting ideas that have value, they will go to scale at Amazon if we’re in any of those businesses,” Brady said. “You don’t have to restrict yourself to one sector.
For those employees who contribute to new innovations, such as developing a new patent, Amazon recognizes them.
“For filing a patent, Amazonians receive an award shaped like a puzzle piece for each filing, and when a pending patent is approved—a process that can take about two years—the puzzle piece goes from clear to blue,” Amazon’s blog post wrote. “These awards are also displayed virtually on the Amazon company-wide directory – a badge only to be worn by inventors. The Hercules project generated seven patents pending with Dragan Pajevic’s name on them, his first-ever patents.”
Pajevic received one as well after watching his design for Hercules go from paper to reality in 2017 when the bot was rolled out across six different sites in Europe within three months.
“Tens of thousands of H Drives are now moving inventory to associates, and some of the bot’s features are already making their way into other robotics for additional tasks,” Amazon wrote. “For Pajevic, the satisfaction comes from seeing the visible impact his team’s technology is having on the customer experience – more efficiency means faster delivery and greater customer satisfaction.”
“It was extremely gratifying to be able to deliver what at first looked almost impossible,” Pajevic said.