It's hard to keep secrets in the robotics industry.
The sector is expanding like crazy, but robotics is still a tight-knit community where neighbors keep close tabs on each others' business and gossip usually outs newcomers well before they show up to the party.
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So it was something of a shock when I learned that Geek+, a three-year-old Chinese robotics firm that makes Kiva-like warehouse robots, has leapt out of startup mode and is now China's number one native supplier of logistics automation.
China is the largest market for industrial automation in the world, so that's certainly a big deal for a young company.
From a market standpoint, however, there's reason to believe this is the inevitable shot across the bow for non-Chinese automation suppliers, which have been cashing in as China scrambles to react to rising wages with more robots.
If Geek+ is any indication, native robotics companies are ascendant, which means the Chinese gravy train could be coming to a screeching halt for outsiders.
That's very much by design. Historically, China has lagged behind Asian rivals Japan and South Korea in robotics development. But with Chinese firms spending huge money on automation technology, the central government has sought to spur native development and keep as much of that spending onshore as possible.
In 2015, China launched the Made in China 2025 plan, which provides a roadmap for Chinese dominance in several high-tech sectors, including robotics.
Bolstered by incentives and government investment, the Chinese robotics market has ballooned ever since. Founded in 2015, Geek+ is a product of that program, and it's providing strong evidence the 2025 plan is working.
Part of the reason Geek+ has flown under the radar is that the company's leadership, backed by a cheerleading government and substantial funding, has taken dead aim at building market share while spending relatively little effort touting its technology portfolio.
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In a sector crammed with novel solutions that often fail to connect with customers, the only benchmark that matters for robotics startups is units sold. Geek+ has already shipped thousands of its industrial robots to warehouses and logistics centers across Asia.
In addition to announcing its latest laser-guided picking robot, Geek+ is using next week's MODEX, the largest supply chain conference in North and South America, as a kind of debutante's coming out party, as well as an announcement that global expansion is underway.
The company has raised more than $61.5 million and has a new manufacturing facility coming online later this year, which promises to more than double production capacity to 10,000 units annually.
With a full line of flexible robots that automate order fulfillment, material handling, and sorting, and with no slow down in sight to the pace of automation adoption globally, Geek+ is very well-positioned to expand its reach beyond China.
It's a company I don't expect to remain a secret for long.