What do you get when you take the traditional warehouse, reconfigure it, automate it, and use machine learning to utilize almost every inch of storage space? You get the evolution of the warehouse… and much like the evolution of farming, it’s going vertical. An easy way to visualize what this looks like is to think of a Jenga tower. The pieces fit together just so, and that leaves very little space between them.
Only, in this future warehouse, machine learning has the entire structure mapped virtually in 3-D, so it knows where every little thing is. It needs something, it sends in the right robot to go get it. Fact is, the traditional warehouse, even those that are already automated, was fundamentally designed and built with human beings in mind. In the new warehouses, the human being will have very little to do with things.
One company in particular is pioneering this type of warehouse, and we’ll be having a peek at them more later in the article. But for now, we want to focus on their technology, and why it’s indicative of what we can expect the warehouse of tomorrow to look like. The company is called Attabotics, and their system design was inspired by the framework of ant colonies. With their system, rows and aisles become a “storage structure”, and robotic shuttles work internally to utilize all available space.
To meet the staffing needs of the warehouses of tomorrow, we wouldn’t be surprised to see the rise of things like Robotics-as-a-Service. We’re used to using pretty much anything as a service these days, you can even stand up a whole business in one day doing so. So… how better to meet staffing needs than to acquire a robotic workforce in exactly the size you need, in any given month.
If the whole warehouse is already mapped out and coordinated using machine learning, it stands to reason that machine learning could help by predicting how many robot workers will be needed… and keeping that number in check automatically. We’re fascinated by the idea. If you can rent whatever you need, or lease it… why wouldn’t you do that with your workforce?
There is a company that has envisioned this warehouse of the future… a warehouse built differently than legacy warehouses, and full of a dynamic, robotic workforce. That company is Hai Robotics, and they have it all figured out. For smaller companies, scalability will be the name of the game. For large companies, flexibility will be key. The algorithm will control the influx and outflux of the workforce… which means never having too many, or too few, robotic workers.
For an overly simplistic imagining of how this could work… you could think about it this way. When you bring home a new Amazon Alexa or Google Nest, they recognize the world around them through signals. This means they can talk and work together relatively easily. The warehouse of the future will probably be a lot like that. You lease or rent the robots you need, they talk to what you have, and they work together until they are removed from the network.
Deals To Watch
Now, we’ll circle back around to the company we mentioned earlier that is helping pioneer this 3-D automated warehouse of the future, Attabotics, as well as have a look at a drone company in the space that has had the foresight to anticipate the problems of tomorrow’s warehouses today: Gather AI. Attabotics is a Calgary, Canada-based 3-D robotics supply chain company founded in 2015 that is helping bring the vertical, automated, robotic warehouse of the future to life.
Last month, the company raised $71.7 million via a Series C round of funding lead by Export Development Canada, and with participation from the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board. This brings the company’s total funding to $165.1 million, with the newest funds earmarked for the company’s continued push into warehouse automation.
The company’s technology packs an all-in-one automated fulfillment system into a single vertical structure and utilizes internal robotic shuttles to pick goods for presentation to fellow human and robot workers on the perimeter of the system. The company has partnered with the likes of the U.S. Department of Defense, Modern Beauty Supplies, and Pan Pacific Pet. The system reduces warehouse space by 85%, all while only requiring 20% of the workforce of traditional centers.
Gather AI is a Pittsburg-based start-up founded in 2019 by Daniel Maturana and Geetesh Dubey after brainstorming the idea of data collection in a warehouse setting. More specifically, on and around the entire floor, in real-time. They ended up putting together a prototype of an inventory monitoring system utilizing off-the-shelf autonomous drones, which would end up being their core product.
In October, Gather raised $10 million in a Series A round of funding led by Tribeca Venture Partners with participation from Dundee Venture Capital, Expa, Bling Capital, XRC Labs, Xplorer Capital, and 99 Tartans. The funds bring the company’s total raised to $17 million, which is being used to hire engineers, and expand deployment capacity and go-to-market plans. While Gather isn’t the first company to think about drones in a warehouse, they are the first to think about it the way they have.
Gather has some very specific differentiators, which include a more fungible, less costly approach. Gather relies on consumer drones that are replaceable and less cost intensive, and they swap them out for free if one malfunctions. Their software doesn’t require that customers make changes to warehouse layouts or infrastructure, their drones run on a simple tablet, and each is fitted with night vision for low light areas within the warehouse.
Vertical, robotic, automated storage structures are allowing us to rethink warehouses, which is important because these facilities have a huge environmental footprint. Vertical automated warehousing, along with Robotics-as-a-Service, may finally be the evolution of warehouses that we’ve seen coming for a while… taking something old and making it new for a better tomorrow. Come back next week, we’ll bring you more from the IPO space. See you then!