UPDATED 18:51 EDT / JANUARY 21 2020

EMERGING TECH

Warehouse robotics firm Berkshire Grey raises $263M in new funding

Robotics company Berkshire Grey Inc. has closed on a massive $263 million funding round announced today that underscores how lucrative the market for warehouse automation could be in the coming years.

SoftBank Group Corp. led the Series B round, in which Khosla Ventures, New Enterprise Associates and Canaan also participated.

Berkshire Grey, which emerged from stealth in 2018, combines its robotics systems with artificial intelligence to automate tasks “never before performed by machines in commercial settings.” Its robots can automatically pick, pack and sort individual items, packs, cases and parcels to help automate warehouse and distribution operations, the company said.

The company’s robots make use of an array of technologies, including computer vision and other sensory systems in order to identify the objects and packages they’re dealing with. They also use patented gripping technologies outfitted with sensors that can send signals such as accelerometer, light beam and tactile pressure readings to the AI system, helping them accurately pick and place different objects. That, combined with its computer vision, enables Berkshire’s robots to handle a broad array of different products, packages and parcels, the company said.

Just as important, Berkshire Grey’s robots rely on their AI software to constantly improve themselves over time. The software works by logging real-time data to inform future decisions and create optimal process-operating and product-handling behaviors for each item or package it deals with. The individual robot systems learn from their previous activities as well as those of other systems across the network. The robots can also perform preventative maintenance on themselves to minimize downtime.

So efficient are its robots that Berkshire Grey reckons its customers can optimize labor costs in “break pack,” as round-trip tote crates are known, and e-commerce operations by between 70% to 80%, while improving throughput by 25% to 35%.

“Our customers from leading enterprises in retail, e-commerce and logistics are selecting Berkshire Grey as a competitive differentiator,” Tom Wagner, founder and chief executive officer of Berkshire Grey, said in a statement. “With our intelligent robotic automation, our clients see faster and more efficient supply chain operations that enable them to address the wants of today’s savvy consumer.”

It’s not difficult to see why Berkshire Grey was able to raise such a huge amount when one considers how hot the robotics industry is right now. According to a report by Markets and Markets, the warehouse robotics sector alone is expected to be worth $4.44 billion by 2022.

Berkshire Grey does, however, face some stiff competition for a piece of that pie. Competitors include Soft Robotics Inc., Fetch Robotics Inc. and Beijing Geekplus Technology Co. Ltd., all of which have raised significant amounts of funding themselves in recent months.

Photo: Berkshire Grey

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