IAM Robotics LLC, which develops a flexible mobile robot platform that picks items from shelves in warehouses, today announced $20 million in new funding. The company plans to accelerate robot production and expand its sales, marketing, and delivery organization to work with distributors within the supply chain.
The investment comes from KCK Ltd., a family-owned investment firm with investments in industrial, scientific, financial services, and medical technologies.
Joel Reed, CEO and president of Pittsburgh-based IAM Robotics, said the investment validates the idea of autonomous mobile manipulation in robotics for companies across the supply chain landscape.
“What we saw over the past couple of years is a great deal of investment in robots that were penetrating the market as first movers,” he said. “We see ourselves not as these other mobile robots that made up the first wave of a lot of the capital, but what we represent is going to be a second wave of not only robotic products and technologies, but full solutions that are going to have a positive impact on operations.”
Pick and move
Founded in 2012, IAM Robotics develops the Swift system, an autonomous flexible mobile picking robot that can scan shelves for products, pick them, and move to other locations. It differs from other mobile robot systems that rely on human pickers, such as those from 6 River Systems, Fetch Robotics, and Locus Robotics.
The company was founded by Tom Galluzzo and Vladimir Altman, who worked at Carnegie Mellon University’s National Robotics Engineering Center. After working on projects related to computer vision, embedded systems and autonomous manipulation, the two were asked by a customer if they could develop a robot that picked items from warehouse shelving, which led to the development of Swift.
Reed said the IAM Robotics system sits between large systems with shuttles that automate the entire process for e-commerce and retail fulfillment, and automated mobile robots or carts that work with human pickers.
“What we’ve seen in the industry is a continuing need for flexible mobile systems in between, that can not only enable a more flexible lower-cost operation for e-commerce picking and selection in the logistics industry, but also automated solutions that don’t cost tens of millions of dollars to install,” he said. “The market is opening up and KCK, like us, sees a really good opportunity to continue to advance our technical lead in terms of capabilities, but to start building full solutions for this marketplace.”
“IAM Robotics has a stellar team and the company is strategically located in a region with a strong industrial history that has also been on the cutting edge of robotics development,” said Dr. Nety Krishna, senior managing director at KCK. “IAM’s core technology can be leveraged to build a suite of products that can serve different market segments. We are looking forward to working together to solve some challenging problems in the logistics industry, thereby unlocking tremendous value for our customers.”
Galluzzo, the co-founder and CTO of IAM Robotics, said the flexible mobile system is expanding the applications for autonomous robots.
“There is a great deal of buzz around autonomous cars, but we see shorter term opportunities to put autonomous robots to work that will have a huge impact on global logistics operations,” he said. “This funding will help us to recruit the talent needed to make autonomous robots an immediate reality.”
In addition to the new funding, IAM Robotics recently announced a partnership with DB Schenker, in which the two companies would bring robotics technology into its logistic operations. Reed said the new partnership is an indicator of how distributors and systems integrators are understanding the mobile autonomous systems market.
“In any situation where innovations come into a marketplace, especially disruptive technologies, technologies alone don’t move the needle,” said Reed. “To really transform a process, an operation, and an industry, you really want to look for those opportunities to alter the efficiency of a workflow, and reposition people to make them more productive in an operation. We think that’s the next stage that’s happening with the introduction of these technologies.”
Supply chain needs flexible mobile robots
One of the reasons why companies are looking at flexible mobile systems is because business models in the supply chain and logistics space are changing on a regular basis, Reed said.
“It’s harder and harder to make large investments in solutions that you have to bolt down to a floor, or build a new facility around, because it’s quite possible that you’re going to come up with a new delivery model, or you’re going to be handling different products that requires you to reconfigure that operation,” he said. “To be able to take a mobile device and reconfigure it in an existing warehouse, or to move to a different facility and just move from one facility to another is a real operational advantage.”
With the additional investment, Reed said the company plans to focus on increasing robot production for existing and new customers, as well as expanding the team in areas of software engineering, mechanical engineering, product management, sales, marketing, and field support.
On the software side, Reed said the plan is to strengthen enterprise software capabilities, as well as adding business intelligence capability to the overall system.
“We’re moving into the company’s next phase – this is definitely a milestone for us,” said Reed. “The good news is we’ve been spending the better part of the year preparing for this, so we’re not starting from scratch. We’re already working on building new units, working with existing customers, and doing a lot of planning in anticipation of this funding.”
With a flexible mobile system that appeals to large, global organizations in addition to small and midsize companies, Reed said the team needs to stay focused on its goals.
“We have to be very careful to make sure that we gain market share in a manageable way that allows to grow appropriately and to achieve profitability,” he said.