Robot-Maker Locus Raises $26 Million


The company's robots resemble motorized stools with shelving and touchscreens. They use sensors to navigate through warehouses.

Locus Robotics Corp. raised $26 million in a funding round that will help the warehouse- automation company expand the reach of its robots, which help speed up the fulfillment of e-commerce orders.
 The Series C round increased to $66 million the funding the Wilmington, Mass.-based company has raised since the business was spun out in 2015 from Quiet Logistics Inc.
 The new funding came from investors including Zebra Ventures, the strategic investment arm of logistics-technology firm Zebra Technologies Corp., and Scale Venture Partners, which led the company's last funding round in 2017.
 Locus Chief Executive Rick Faulk said the company would use the new funding to extend the company's business into Europe and develop “next-generation robots.”
 The automation company has placed robots with customers in the U.S., including Deutsche Post AG's DHL and France-based logistics provider Geodis.
 “We will launch in Europe by midyear,” said Mr. Faulk. “We're effectively being pulled over there by our big accounts. And later on we have opportunities in Asia. It's just a massive world-wide market, with significant growth.”
 The Locus robots resemble motorized stools with shelving and touchscreens. They operate in groups and use sensors to navigate through warehouses as workers pick items and move on. The robots are part of a new generation of automated tools known as collaborative robots because they work with humans.
 They come equipped with software that ties together inventory- management data and warehouse-management systems to help the robots quickly locate products in vast warehouses and figure out the fastest, most efficient path to the goods.
 Locus says the robots can double the efficiency of human workers by cutting the time workers spend walking between shelves. “We do that by surrounding a human with the robots, and we have algorithms that dramatically decrease the walking time in a building,” Mr. Faulk said. “Instead of walking up and down aisles, the human will work a zone and the robots will come to you.”
 Most warehouses still rely largely on people who pull carts through the aisles, and even automated facilities like some of Amazon.com Inc.'s vast fulfillment centers require hundreds of workers to pick and pack goods for shipping. But the market for logistics robots is growing as online sales surge, pushing companies to fulfill orders faster for rapid delivery, and a tight labor supply makes it harder and more expensive to hire warehouse workers.
 U.K.-based ABI Research said in a report last month that heavily automated warehouses world-wide would grow from 4,000 last year to 50,000 by 2023 and would put some 4 million commercial robots to work.
 ABI Senior Analyst Nick Finill said in the report that the automation helps companies that are coping with “volatile product demand, seasonal peaks, and rising consumer delivery expectations.”
 Amazon, which helped spur greater warehouse automation with its purchase in 2012 of warehouse robotics company Kiva Systems, stepped up its automation investment this month with the acquisition of Boulder, Colo.-based Canvas Technology.  
The startup also makes autonomous carts for warehouses.
— Jennifer Smith contributed to this article.

BY PAUL PAGE

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