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Robots in Warehouses Are Still a Big Deal

Some warehouse robots in action

Over the course of the last few decades, supply chain automation has significantly advanced. A notable part of this has involved warehouse robotics, which gained initial fame thanks to Amazon. But since that time, robotics has continued to improve in both hardware and software applications. Leveraging improvements in AI and deep learning, these new systems are becoming increasingly skilled and productive. It’s therefore not surprising that the number of startups in the robotics sector continues to grow. And coinciding with that growth are significant amounts of venture capital investments.

While several major competitors exist in the industry, a few have made recent headlines. Some have advanced their partnerships with giants like Walmart while others are wowing the world in technological advances. At a time when supply chain issues persist post-pandemic, these improvements are certainly welcomed. The more supply chain automation that occurs, hopefully the better to output. This is why investment capital in these areas continues to expand despite funds contracting in most startup markets. The bottom line is that warehouse robotics remain a hot topic and likely will be for some time to come.

(It’s rough out there for startups needing funding–read all about it in this Bold story!)

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The Current Warehouse Robotics Landscape

When it comes to the supply chain automation sector, warehouse robotics is a leading segment. In 2019, it was estimated that the total global automation market exceeded $15 billion. Notably, robotics systems played a major role in creating the industry’s valuation. But what’s more impressive is that the global industry is expected to double over the next 4 years. Issues related to supply chain disruptions have fueled both development and support. This is why 2021 was a banner year for startup venture capital in the warehouse robotics arena. Over $17 billion in venture capital was allocated to such companies this year. This figure was three times the amount available in the same type of funding for 2020. These figures highlight how robust demand for supply chain automation is currently.

Interestingly, there are other indicators regarding the growth of the warehouse robotics industry other than VC funding. Major corporations invested in fulfillment centers are similarly making moves in this regard. For example, Walmart recently expanded its partnership with Symbotic, a known supply chain automation startup. Likewise, Amazon has announced up to $1 billion in funding for startups exploring logistics, fulfillment and supply chain automation innovations. Given these developments, it is evident that warehouse robotics is far from a decline. In fact, the demand is accelerating at an incredible pace.

“With advanced tech that can solve a wide range of real-world problems, [Ambi Robotics] decided to use their expertise to drive the exploding ecommerce industry toward a sustainable supply chain.” – Jim Liefer, CEO of Ambi Robotics

New Developments in Robotics and Automation

The most recent advances in the field of warehouse robotics naturally involves artificial intelligence and deep learning. Many startups in this sector are redefining supply chain automation through innovative algorithms. One company, however, is leveraging a unique simulation training system to improve robotics function and production. Ambi Robotics, based in Berkeley, California, uses a system call DEX-Net, short for dexterity network. The system basically contains AI that is capable of initially training on thousands of simulation images and 3D models. It then uses this knowledge along with deep learning to continually improve its abilities. As such, it’s able to smoothly transfer simulated learning to real-world applications while continuing to learn.

Some robots doing their thing in warehouse
Leaps in warehouse robotics means greater efficiency.

If you think Ambi’s warehouse robotics system is only used for moving objects around, you’d be mistaken. In fact, it’s capable of picking up any object, scanning it, placing it, and packing it as part of its fulfillment activities. The robotic arm can also work alongside employees safely and identifies the best way and location to pick up an object. Its latest version also has end effectors that can grasp any type of object, deformable or rigid. At the same time, Ambi’s system provides software for continuous learning and for data insights. These insights include productivity data as well as item analysis in terms of dimensions and weight. Reportedly, Ambi Robotics systems can boost average throughout to 1,200 items per hour in fulfillment center applications.

“Just this year, our team has more than doubled and we will continue to add engineering and customer success talent and other areas to keep pace with customer demand for our robotic solutions across their operations.” – Jim Liefer, Ambi Robotics CEO

A Venture Capital Outlier

As a sector, warehouse robotics is seeing notable support amidst a constrained VC environment. Recently, Ambi Robotics received an additional $32 million boost in funding through multiple investors. According to the company’s CEO, the funding will be used in a variety of ways. Most notably, the company wishes to deploy and install its latest versions of its supply chain automation systems. At the same time, they plan on expanding engineering and customer support staff and increase their product portfolio. This brings the grand total of capital funding for the startup to $67 million overall. This is quite impressive given that the company only launched in 2019.

Naturally, advances in warehouse robotic systems raise concerns for workers. The abilities of systems like Ambi’s demonstrates how far these technologies have come. Thus, it’s worth recognizing that technology displacement of some workers may well occur along the way. At the same time, it’s similarly clear that science and engineering talent are rapidly increasing in demand. In a post-pandemic world, where online consumers have come to expect at-home and next-day delivery, these developments aren’t surprising. This is why supply chain automation in general, and warehouse robotics specifically, are a big deal. And as long as these systems continue to advance, it’s evident that demand will continue to drive funding supports.

 

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