April 5, 2018

6 River Systems announces $25 million funding for warehouse robots

Money will be used for improvements to "Chuck" robots' decision-making abilities, expansion of sales in Europe, firm says.

By Ben Ames

Chuck robot from 6 Rivers
6 River will improve its Chuck fulfillment robot, which directs and aids warehouse employees.

Warehouse robotics startup 6 River Systems Inc. (6RS) has landed $25 million in venture backing from a group led by Menlo Ventures. 6 Rivers will use the funds to enhance the design of its "Chuck" collaborative fulfillment robot, add more than 80 employees over the next 12 months, and expand its European sales, the company said Wednesday.

The investment is the latest round of funding for the firm and brings Waltham, Mass.-based 6 River to nearly $47 million, including $15 million raised in 2017 from a group led by Norwest Venture Partners and $6 million in 2016 from a group including iRobot Corp. The latest round was led by Menlo Park, Calif.-based Menlo Ventures, with participation from other previous investors including Norwest, iRobot, and Eclipse Ventures.

With this cash infusion, 6RS will hire engineers to enhance its rolling Chuck bot, making it smarter, safer, and better at avoiding obstacles in the warehouse, 6 River Systems co-founder Jerome Dubois said in a phone interview. By broadening the robots' machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) platforms, the company will improve the Chuck robots' decision-making abilities, allowing them to do a better job of leading warehouse employees through picking and replenishment tasks, he said.

While other collaborative fulfillment robots, such as those from Locus Robotics, Fetch Robotics Inc., and Clearpath Robotics Inc. also accompany warehouse workers to each "pick face" location, 6RS' specialize in directing associates' work at an optimal pace that strikes a balance between improving the productivity of the worker and getting maximum utilization out of the robot, he said. "A paced environment is how we keep associates on task, but not working so fast that they make errors," said Dubois.

Each Chuck bot can carry 160 pounds of inventory, making it appropriate for applications in e-commerce fulfillment, store replenishment, and industrial or medical products, but not for bulky goods like large appliances or heavy automotive parts, he said.

6RS also plans to use the new funding round to expand its sales in Europe by adding that region's Conformité Européenne (CE) safety certification to its current standard, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) certification. While European DCs typically have more mature installations of warehouse automation than U.S. facilities, 6RS says its robots will deliver greater productivity improvements at a lower cost than existing solutions like conveyors, pick to voice, pick to light, and shuttle systems.

Between upgrading its Chuck bots and adding new sales regions, 6RS expects to expand its installed base of operating robots from some 100 robots at 10 sites in 2017 to 600 robots at 30 sites by the end of 2018, he said.

The company will be pushed toward that goal by logistics companies' need to meet rising consumer demands for fast fulfillment and delivery, one investor said. "The hyper-growth in e-commerce and demand for near real-time delivery of goods has put enormous pressure on the logistics, operations, and workforce of virtually every retailer," Menlo Ventures Partner Matt Murphy said in a statement.

About the Author

Ben Ames
Senior Editor
Ben Ames has spent 20 years as a journalist since starting out as a daily newspaper reporter in Pennsylvania in 1995. From 1999 forward, he has focused on business and technology reporting for a number of trade journals, beginning when he joined Design News and Modern Materials Handling magazines. Ames is author of the trail guide "Hiking Massachusetts" and is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism.

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