Video: Walmart is using aisle-roaming robots to keep its shelves stocked
Locus Robotics, which makes autonomous, mobile robots for use in e-commerce fulfillment warehouses, just announced $25 million in a Series B round.
Locus is one of a growing number of warehouse robotics providers helping retailers and third-party logistics operators automate existing operations without major retrofits.
The trend is being driven by an industry-wide labor shortage and by the exploding e-commerce market, which is expected to grow by 20 percent CAGR to become a $4 trillion global market by 2020, according to Nielson.
"E-commerce fulfillment warehouses are under tremendous pressure to meet increasing demands for fast, accurate order fulfillment in the face of significant labor challenges," says Rick Faulk, CEO of Locus Robotics. "Locus Robotics's collaborative robots allow warehouse operators to significantly increase worker productivity while economically closing the growing labor gap."
Of course the other factor driving the rapid shift toward automation in e-commerce is Amazon. "In an economy largely dominated by Amazon," continues Faulk, "Locus arms independent operators with the means to compete effectively."
In 2012, Amazon acquired Kiva, which makes automation solutions for the logistics industry. Not long after, you could order mouthwash in the morning and get it the same afternoon.
The $775 million acquisition, Amazon's second-biggest at the time, gave the company a massive competitive advantage over rivals like Wal-Mart and put it years ahead of smaller retailers.
Now, a new generation of companies like Fetch Robotics, OTTO Motors, and Locus are bridging the gap with autonomous carts and pickers that can navigate semi-structured environments like warehouses.
"We look for huge markets, burning needs, and compelling and innovative technologies that address those needs," says Rory O'Driscoll, General Partner at ScaleVP, which invested in Locus. He rightly sees a big opportunity for the kinds of turnkey robots Locus provides, which can be deployed overnight without overhauling operations.
"We try to invest just when that innovative technology is ready to jump from an interesting idea that might happen to a core business imperative that is happening right now. For collaborative robotics the time is right now. Robots can work safely with humans, each doing what they do best, to double human productivity and lighten the physical workload in industries like logistics. We anticipate an explosion of this trend in the next few years, and Locus will be at the heart of that trend."