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Peter Wurman

Mobile Robotic Material Handling for Order Fulfillment

U.S. Patent No. 8,649,899
Inducted in 2022
Born July 24, 1965

In the early 2000s, Peter Wurman, Mick Mountz and Raffaello D’Andrea created the Kiva system, an entirely new approach for material handling in distribution centers that revolutionized warehouse order fulfillment. Kiva utilized thousands of mobile robots and sophisticated control software to bring inventory shelves to workers, significantly improving all areas of fulfillment center operations from safety and productivity to cycle time and throughput.

In 2002, while developing his idea to improve warehouse distribution efficiencies, Mountz contacted his former Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) roommate Wurman, then assistant professor of computer science at North Carolina State University, for software advice. They decided on a multi-agent software architecture run on centralized computers to track inventory and wirelessly command robots to perform delivery tasks. D’Andrea, a robotics expert and professor from Cornell University, joined the company then known as Distrobot to develop the motion layer. As chief technology officer, Wurman was responsible for the system architecture and decision-making algorithms that allocated the tasks and coordinated the motion of the robot fleet.

The company’s first customer was Staples, followed by dozens of others including Walgreens, whose fulfillment center used over 1,000 robots. In 2012, Amazon purchased Kiva and renamed the enterprise Amazon Robotics. At that time, Kiva had systems in more than 30 warehouses in North America and Europe.

Wurman earned his bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering at MIT, and his master’s degrees in mechanical engineering and computer science and doctorate in computer science at the University of Michigan. In an interview with the National Inventors Hall of Fame®, Wurman described what motivates him: “What I enjoy most is a combination of building systems and solving hard problems. I like challenging technology problems that have impact on the world, where you build something that other people really use.”

Named on more than 60 U.S. patents, Wurman shares the 2008 IEEE/IFR Innovation and Entrepreneurship Award with Mountz and D’Andrea. 
He is currently director of Sony AI America.


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