“There is this huge white space”
Fforget about dancing robots. Industrial robots that can help retailers process orders ever faster are really all the rage these days.
Warehouse robotics company Berkshire Gray debuted on the Nasdaq today after the completion of its merger with a SPAC backed by AOL co-founder Steve Case and former Congressman John Delaney (Dem.-Maryland) called Revolution Acceleration Acquisition Corp. By the close of trading, shares of the new public robotics company had risen 7.5%, to $ 10. In after-hours trading, they rose a further 4.4%, to $ 10.44.
“There is this huge white space where there is no automation today,” says Tom Wagner, founder and CEO of the company, of which 4.69 million shares are now worth nearly 50 million. dollars. “The work that we automate exists today. It is not a hypothetical future.
Wagner, 54, the former CTO of iRobot, maker of the popular Roomba robotic vacuum cleaners, founded the company in 2013 to bring innovation to the warehouse space. A native of Michigan who had worked at General Motors early in his career, he visited manufacturers, farmers and e-commerce distribution centers to see what they needed before starting the business. “I had people who really let me walk and understand the business,” he says.
Wagner spent the first five years developing the technology and filing patents. The company exited stealth in December 2018.
“Everything is technically very difficult. You cannot use the same technologies that you use for manufacturing.
Picking up objects of different sizes, shapes, and weights in an unstructured environment is one of the hardest things for robots to do. This is why warehouse automation has been so difficult. Berkshire Grey’s automation system includes large picking “cells” and mobile robots that can move around the warehouse. It’s not standard automation, but rather 15 different modules that the company assembles in a variety of configurations for its customers.
“It’s very difficult technically,” says Wagner. “You can’t use the same technologies that you use for manufacturing. “
He points to the basic polybag used to wrap the clothes. It can be any shape or size, and it can hold a heavy or light item. The robot must be trained to handle these different permutations, which is much easier for humans to do than for machines. Shiny objects, transparent packaging, and even the color black make it harder for a robotic arm to grab something.
The promise of retail warehouse automation is huge, as stores have faced a deluge of online orders over the past year and have struggled to keep up with Amazon and its lightning-fast delivery times.
Berkshire Grey’s revenue reached $ 35 million last year and is expected to reach $ 59 million this year, according to the presentation to investors. Customers include Walmart, Target, FedEx, and TJ Maxx.
The sophistication of Berkshire Gray’s system means that “at the moment only large companies can access these technologies,” says Kent Yoshida, commercial director of SoftBank Robotics, which has a partnership with Berkshire Gray in combination with the investment from SoftBank. Vision Fund in the company. “The current solution is more like cutting edge technology, but maybe a year or two later it will be more commonplace.”
The deal is the latest in an ongoing SPAC boom that has grown to encompass industrial startups, including manufacturing software companies Bright Machines and Fast Radius and 3D printing companies Desktop Metal and Markforged.