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September 06, 2019      

Two Boston-area robotics companies are combining their efforts to deliver an automated picking system designed for e-commerce and retail warehouses. 6 River Systems and Soft Robotics recently announced a strategic partnership that utilizes 6 River’s mobile “Chuck” robots with the Soft Robotics full stack bin picking and order fulfillment system known as SuperPick.

The companies call the integrated system “the first commercially available end-to-end mobile picking solution” – and will demonstrate the system during the CSCMP EDGE 2019 show in Anaheim, Calif., Sept. 15-18.

Lisa Donnelly, the vice president of marketing at Soft Robotics, said the respective CEOs of each company have known each other for quite some time during their courses of working in the Boston robotics scene. She said 6 River approached Soft Robotics in April and early May with the opportunity of the partnership of having an integrated goods-to-robot delivery system. “They felt that they had some near-term customers that might be interested in such a system, and we also thought it was a great idea for all of the same reasons,” Donnelly said.

Jerome Dubois, a co-founder and co-CEO at 6 River Systems, said the partnership will be one way the company aims to meet the dynamic needs of e-commerce and retail customers. “This solution will allow customers to fully automate the picking process for high-demand products, thereby enabling warehouse employees to focus on higher impact operations,” said Dubois. “The combined capabilities of Chuck and SuperPick will expand capacity, enabling more orders to be completed with greater accuracy and speed.”

mobile picking system soft robotics 6 River

An integrated system combines mobile robots from 6 River Systems with the SuperPick system from Soft Robotics. Image: Soft Robotics

At the CSCMP EDGE show, the companies will demonstrate an application where an “office supply store” is providing very fast or hot items that would top off a customer order as part of a promotion. The Chuck robots will come up to the SuperPick station with customer orders, and the robot arm and Soft Robotics gripper will place the item into the Chuck bin.

Similarly, an application of the system could be something where customer orders delivered by the Chuck robot could then be picked and placed into order boxes by the SuperPick system.

Reducing complexity on multi-robot systems

The company said previous robotics solutions deployed in warehouses would burden customers with the added costs and complexities of SKU training and deep learning methods, which delayed deployment and a company’s return on investment. The combined offering from the two companies “removes the barriers associated with these high costs and delivers an easily deployed solution into existing infrastructure.”

“Robotic automation is reaching industries that have been largely untouched by automation in the past,” said Donnelly. “What we hear a lot is that customers almost think that the payback and the ROI is going to take a long time for them to really understand the value of the system.”

Lisa Donnelly, Soft Robotics

Lisa Donnelly, Soft Robotics

When you throw in the extra complexity of having multiple types of robotics systems that don’t talk to each other, the issues for end customers becomes whether to bring in an integrator at additional costs. With this partnership, where the software and communications has already been created, it should be easier for customers to deploy, Donnelly added. “One of the things that has always been paramount to us at Soft Robotics is we’re plug-and-play. We want to get in and be up and running in a couple of days.”

Carl Vause, CEO of Soft Robotics, said the combined solution would be a key offering to companies struggling with staffing shortages. “I speak with customers nearly every day that are struggling with peak efficiency as a result of their inability to hire workers,” Vause said in a statement. “The integration of mobile material transport systems and goods to robot order fulfillment systems will help to address an increasingly common market need and I am confident these customers will see throughput gains and payback faster than ever before.”

“The partnership between 6 River Systems and Soft Robotics is an excellent illustration of combinatorial innovation at the intelligent operational system level. It confirms the accelerating shift of robotics use-cases from ‘the point of activity’ to ‘a place of innovation’,” said Remy Glaisner, a research director at IDC. “It also keeps strengthening the application of robotics beyond incremental task improvement and aligns with pressing strategic enterprise considerations such as labor market challenges.”

At the moment, both companies will use the partnership as a co-selling and co-deployment arrangement, working with potential customers looking for a goods-to-robot system. Donnelly said Soft Robotics was also in discussions with other companies for future integrations where combining robotics systems would be beneficial to end users.