Massachusetts-based 6 River Systems announced today a $25 million round of financing to support its mobile robotics platform in the e-commerce and logistics order-fulfillment space.
The company, named after Boston’s Charles River — a six-river system — has developed a robot named “Chuck” that collaborates with human workers to complete orders more efficiently and accurately.
The Series B round of funding was led by Menlo Ventures, with participation from existing investors, including Norwest Venture Partners, Eclipse Ventures, and iRobot.
6 River Systems said it would use the money to make enhancements to its robot, which is named “Chuck” after the Charles River. The company also plans to develop a decision-making engine for warehouses and hire more than 80 employees over the next 12 months.
In a warehouse order-fulfillment setting, Chuck takes on the duties of delivering carts of goods from one zone in the warehouse to another, said Jerome Dubois, the co-founder and co-CEO at 6 River Systems. After an order is filled, the mobile robot lets human workers stay in their zones to work on the next orders while Chuck either completes an order or delivers goods to the next zone and another human.
On average, eight Chuck robots can work with about five or six human pickers, Dubois said. The company currently has about 100 Chuck robots deployed across 10 sites, with the goal of deploying 600 robots by the end of this year, he added. The platform and robots can quickly deploy within an existing warehouse environment, usually between four and six weeks, said Dubois.
The robots can autonomously recharge themselves during a shift – software determines whether the robots need to be recharged. Another robot takes over while the robot “takes a break” and recharges. This capability means that the robots can work around the clock, unlike robots that need to be recharged overnight.
6 River Systems said it has already deployed the system at three of the top five third-party logistics (3PL) providers, as well as other large retailers. Lewis Frazer, senior vice president at Barrett Distribution Center, said the company has been able to scale to support the company’s increased usage within the past year.
“[6 River Systems’] software and their collaborative robot Chuck has increased our productivity, reduced error rates 50%, and reduced training times to a matter of hours,” Frazer said in a statement.
The funding also indicates a willingness by Silicon Valley venture capital firms to invest within this robotics space, said Matthew Howard, managing partner at Norwest Venture Partners, one of 6 River Systems’ investors.
“We’ve seen a huge breadth of innovation happen where we’ve gone from delivering in two weeks to two days to two hours in some cases,” Howard said. “When technology wins, huge innovation happens, but the ballet of logistics has to be optimal.”
Howard said he was very impressed with the experience of the 6 River Systems team, which includes several executives from Kiva Systems, a mobile robotics company that was acquired by Amazon in 2012. The profit margins are so slim for e-commerce companies that precision is a key driver of efficiency improvements, he said.
In researching other companies within the order fulfillment robotics space, “I just couldn’t find another team that really had that experience,” Howard said.
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