The robots handling your online orders

Automation is getting a big boost thanks to consumer behavior changes during the pandemic.
Written by Greg Nichols, Contributing Writer

Fulfillment warehouse robots are having a moment as online shopping continues to increase during the pandemic. The hot market for autonomous fulfillment solutions has helped Locus Robotics, which makes autonomous mobile robots for use in fulfillment warehouses, raise an additional $40 million during a successful Series D this week.

The new infusion brings total funding for Locus to $105 million. The company plans to use the money for R&D and expansion into new global markets, including in Europe, where it plans to open a new regional headquarters this year.

"Locus Robotics is thrilled to announce this new round of funding amid our most transformative year yet," said Rick Faulk, CEO of Locus Robotics. "The new funding allows Locus to accelerate expansion into global markets, enabling us to strengthen our support of retail, industrial, healthcare, and 3PL businesses around the world as they navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring that they come out stronger on the other side."

In general, the pandemic has had a huge influence on consumer behavior, accelerating existing growth of online shopping. That's been a boon for the automation sector. As I've written, technologies such as mobile delivery robots are seeing increased adoption. Starship Technologies, for example, probably the best known of the delivery robot startups, has been expanding beyond small testbeds and is rolling out its robot food delivery service in Fairfax City, VA. Tens of thousands of residents will now be able order contactless delivery from a bunch of area restaurants and grocers. Starship has been delivering on the campus of George Mason University since early last year

Behind the scenes, robots that help warehouses process and fulfill orders are benefitting from what has become our critical reliance on online shopping.

"Automation has proven to be a critical solution for retail and third-party logistics businesses during this challenging time," says Tony Palcheck, Senior Director, Zebra Ventures, which led Locus' Series D. "As the retail industry continues to shift to e-commerce, Locus Robotics' warehouse automation will help businesses meet the demands of this 'new normal,' ensuring that customers can increase operational efficiency to meet requirements for fast, accurate delivery."

Locus Robotics makes autonomous mobile robots that operate collaboratively with human workers to improve piece-handling productivity as much as 2X-3X, with less labor compared to traditional picking systems. The robots are aimed at helping 3PLs and specialty warehouses efficiently meet the increasingly complex and demanding requirements of fulfillment environments, which now include social distancing restrictions -- something robots don't have to worry about.

"We have recently seen a dramatic disruption of retail with e-commerce growth as high as 400% year-over-year in some categories. And others were severely limited as the bulk of their inventory was in stores that they could not get into due to lockdowns. It's critical that retailers are prepared for direct fulfillment from the warehouse," said Greg Buzek, President of IHL Group. "This announcement underscores the need for companies to prepare for today's new labor challenges that will be impacted by the significant volume increases that are already occurring. Companies investing now in warehouse automation, particularly AMRs, will be better positioned for success in the post-pandemic economy as they can support sales from any channel."

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