Locus Robotics raises $25 million in venture capital
Autonomous warehouse bots collaborate with human pickers to help retailers and 3PLs compete with Amazon, firm says.
By Ben Ames
Warehouse automation vendor Locus Robotics Inc. said today it has raised $25 million in venture capital and plans to use the funding to drive sales of its e-commerce fulfillment robots in China and Japan.
The new funds come from Foster City, Calif.-based Scale Venture Partners, and follows an $8 million financing round in 2016 intended to support increased production and sales of its multi-robot warehouse fulfillment system, which was launched in November 2015.
Wilmington, Mass.-based Locus Robotics makes autonomous robotic vehicles that work alongside human pickers to improve their productivity. This allows retailers and third-party logistics (3PL) providers to compete with Amazon.com Inc.'s robotic technology, according to Locus Robotics CEO Rick Faulk.
Locus bots create their own map of a distribution center, then interface with a warehouse management system (WMS) platform to navigate to any location in the building. There, they work alongside human warehouse laborers in piece-picking operations such as e-commerce, storage, replenishment, and wholesale, the firm says.
The company will use its latest funding to increase its penetration of Asian markets, develop new robotic features, expand its sales and marketing division, and fund its subscription-based Robotics-as-a-Service (RaaS) offering, Faulk said in an interview.
"It takes capital to do the things we want to do, which includes going international, and the right market for that now is Asia. Specifically China and Japan," Faulk said. For now, Locus will continue to make its robots in Massachusetts, and will partner with international systems integrators, consultants, and resellers to build its Asian presence, he said.
Some of the biggest demand for e-commerce fulfillment robots comes from Japan, where real estate developers are building vertical warehouses close to major cities, equipping them with advanced automation, then leasing out the facilities as "ready to go" fulfillment solutions, Faulk said. Locus' robots are a good match for that application because their mobility and mapping technology supports quick installations in new buildings, according to Faulk. In addition, the robots' lighter weight allows them to safely operate on mezzanines and floors of various construction material, he said.
Scale Venture Partners decided to invest in Locus because investors think collaborative robotics technology is on the verge of becoming a core business imperative rather than just an interesting concept, Rory O'Driscoll, general partner at ScaleVP, said in a statement. "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."
Robotic capabilities are accelerating thanks to recent advances in strategic trends such as autonomous navigation, machine learning, computer vision, the rise of e-commerce, and the related demand for warehouse automation, O'Driscoll wrote in a recent blog post.
Armed with those technologies, Locus Robotics can allow warehouses and 3PLs to evolve beyond the traditional, manual, and labor intensive strategies needed to store, pick, pack, and ship the items that consumers order online, he said.
"Amazon continues to post market-leading numbers and is setting the expectations of consumers for next day (or even same day) delivery. The trajectory of e-commerce has become inexorable and other retailers have no choice but to compete," O'Driscoll said.
About the Author
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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