Drive Unit

A warehouse full of orange robots zipping around while carrying multi-tiered shelves of boxes and items.
Robots run this place. Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg/Getty Images

The Drive Unit is a mobile robot used by Amazon for automating its warehouses. It carries heavy shelves of inventory on its back, and it never gets tired, complains about the boss, or asks for a raise.


Kiva Systems and Amazon Robotics

(Originally developed by Kiva Systems, acquired by Amazon in 2012.)

United States 🇺🇸
A series of images show a rotating squat orange unit which carries shelving full of items for sale.
See the robot lift a rack off the ground. Photos: Carlton SooHoo

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Did you know?

In early 2012, online retailer Amazon acquired Kiva Systems for $775 million in cash.

A woman stands at a table scanning items that have been brought by an orange robot carrying shelves of items.
A robot brings over products to a worker. Photo: Amazon Robotics
An orange boxy robot with a protruding circular apparatus.
The lifting mechanism of Kiva's original robot. Photo: Joshua Dalsimer
How Amazon operates its robotic warehouses. Video: CNET

More videos


Raffaello D'Andrea, an ETH Zurich professor and a Kiva cofounder, explains how some of the company's key technologies originated with robot soccer.

Raffaello D'Andrea, an ETH Zurich professor and a Kiva cofounder, explains how some of the company's key technologies originated with robot soccer.

Photo: Kiva Systems


Kiva Systems was founded by Mick Mountz, an MIT-trained engineer and entrepreneur, along with Raffaello D'Andrea, a roboticist, and Peter Wurman, a computer scientist. Kiva built six prototype Drive Unit (DU) robots in 2004. They were used to demonstrate the concept of a robotic warehouse while the company worked on the first commercial version of the DU 1000, which was released in 2005. The next generation of the DU 1000 followed quickly in 2006 with major changes to the charging subsystem and lifting mechanism. In 2007, Kiva introduced the larger capacity DU 3000 bot, which can lift 1,360 kg (3,000 lb) and was designed for transporting oversize items. Since that time the form factors of the robots have remained mostly the same while the firmware has continually evolved. Amazon acquired Kiva for US $775 million in 2012 and formed Amazon Robotics.

Close up of a camera within the robot.
This camera reads barcodes under the product racks. Photo: Joshua Dalsimer
Three men balance on an orange robot while many of the same robot are lined up behind them.
Kiva founders Peter Wurman, Mick Mountz, and Raff D'Andrea, photographed in 2008. Photo: Joshua Dalsimer



Capable of operating autonomously in groups of hundreds. Decentralized software architecture. Able to lift about 450 kg, or 1,000 lb.





146.5 kg
4.68 km/h

Downward-facing camera (to read barcodes on the floor), upward-facing camera (to read barcodes under product racks), infrared sensors, and collision-detection bumpers.


On-board computer on each robot, a main server for managing the robots and inventory, and PCs at the order-fulfillment stations.


Agent-based software running on the robots, the main warehouse server, and the PCs.