Robotics company fetches big bucks on strong growth

A once-scrappy automation company joins the big leagues with nearly $100 million in funding.

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Fetch Robotics, a company that makes automation systems for warehouses, just announced $46 million in Series C funding. The round brings Fetch's total funding to $96 million and firmly establishes the once-scrappy newcomer as a force in a new generation of flexible industrial automation.

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Founded in 2014 by Melonee Wise, a robotics pioneer and alumnus of famed robotics research lab Willow Garage, Fetch is part of a new category of industrial automation that can be flexibly scaled to meet demand. In addition to its autonomous mobile robots, which include a cart that can autonomously navigate a warehouse and a mobile pick-and-place robot, the company touts its cloud-based robotics solution, which integrates a full automation stack into logistics operations of all sizes, whether a company needs just a few robots or dozens.

The business case emphasizes speed, which automation provides, and labor shortages, which have been a top of list concern for managers in a tight labor market. Companies like Fetch and its competitors, which include Locus Robotics and Geek+, are filling that need with flexible automation offerings.

"Customers have responded enthusiastically to our unique Cloud Robotics solution, and we're responding by securing the funds we need to continue growing and enhancing our offerings," said Melonee Wise, CEO of Fetch Robotics. "The competitive pressures for excellence in logistics have never been greater. Our autonomous mobile robots and cloud platform enables our customers to meet their customers' demands while meeting their own financial objectives."

Preceding the funding, Fetch is coming off some big wins. Universal Logistics Holdings, Inc., a full-service provider of customized transportation and logistics solutions, recently deployed the Fetch Cloud Robotics Platform in its one million square-foot Smyrna, TN logistics facility, which serves the nearby Nissan Motors plant, the largest auto manufacturing facility in North America.

Smyrna, the company points out, has one of the lowest overall unemployment rates in the US at 2.4%, making it challenging to find qualified workers.

"In Smyrna as in many markets we serve, we face chronic labor shortages, at times in excess of 10% of our required staff, which puts significant pressure on everyone from the workers on the floor to senior management," according to Universal CEO Jeff Rogers. "The Fetch Robotics system provides an answer to our problem. Because the system installs so quickly -- we had it fully operational in less than a week -- we're able to boost output and manage our costs. And our workers like it because the robots take on the less interesting, more laborious tasks. With Fetch, our employees can focus on the revenue-generating tasks that are more fulfilling and more valuable."

Fetch's latest round was led by Fort Ross Ventures, with additional participation from CEAS Investments, Redwood Technologies, TransLink Capital and Zebra Ventures. All existing investors -- O'Reilly AlphaTech VenturesShasta VenturesSoftbank Capital and Sway Ventures -- also participated in this round.