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"Give me a packet network fast enough and I shall move the world..."

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Written by Phillip Kim

Recently I went up to visit a Boston-based company several college classmates had started. They are called Kiva Systems. They build robots. Cool stuff. I got in touch with them after a few of us at M5 had visited Zappos out in Las Vegas. Zappos, the very excellent e-tailer, spoke about their cool warehouse inventory and shipping solution which uses robots instead of the traditional Rube Goldberg of conveyer belts, carousels, ropes and pulleys. Turned out Kiva was started by a few of my fraternity brothers from MIT and a road trip was born.

Kiva robots are more the utilitarian R2D2 than the humanoid C3PO. They roll around, lifting up items from the inventory floor and bring them to the station in which they get boxed and shipped out. Analogies to the digital world abound. In essence, an item in the warehouse becomes the payload and the robot is the underlying network packet transport. A central signaling server provides the intelligence so that all the robots on the warehouse floor do not slam into one another and get to the UPS truck on time. Or at other times, conducts the robots to a ballet performance of the Blue Danube.

This idea of packetizing "stuff" - traditional paradigms in transportation and communication, not to mention dim sum - is now manifesting itself in other environments such as Zappos warehouses with great new technologies. On-demand, real time, are other terms which basically describe the notion of something being where it needs to be when it needs to be, and connotes the efficacy of such a system. As the focus has been on digital products being on-demand, such as downloading Snow Crash to one's Amazon Kindle at 2am, the promise of physical three dimensional items such as my Rockports being delivered by noon if I order by 10pm the night before, is fiercely upon us with companies such as Zappos and Kiva. Cool stuff.