Locus Robotics, a manufacturer and developer of autonomous mobile robots (AMR) for fulfillment warehouses, has cracked the $1 billion valuation mark after securing another $150 million in Series E funding led by investment firms Tiger Global Management and Bond. The robotics company has secured approximately $255 million in funding to date.
Locus will use the new investment to further expand its international market opportunities, including a bigger push into the European Union and the Asia-Pacific region, and to support ongoing research and development (R&D) to grow and enhance its warehouse technology solution. This appears to be a trend for the company, which entered the Australia and New Zealand markets for the first time after raising $40 million last June. The company also plans to increase its current headcount from 165 to 240 this year.
The company offers a “robot-as-a-service” program through which customers can scale up by adding its “LocusBots” on a limited-time basis. For a monthly subscription fee, Locus sends or receives robots to warehouses upon request, and it provides those robots software and hardware updates, in addition to maintenance.
In a statement, Locus Robotics CEO Rick Faulk pointed to the modern challenges making retail robots an imperative, as “warehouses face both ongoing labor shortages and exploding volumes.” He noted that overwhelmed warehouses and distribution centers could use flexible, intelligent automation to improve productivity and grow their operations. In November, Faulk told Sourcing Journal that some Locus clients were selling as much as four times online what they sold the year before, as the pandemic sent store-loving shoppers in search of online alternatives.
Locus says it currently serves more than 40 customers and 80 warehouses around the world, with roughly 80 percent of its deployments in the U.S., and the remaining 20 percent in Europe. LocusBots have picked more than 300 million units, including 70 million units during the recent holiday season, a 250 percent increase over the prior year. On Cyber Week alone, the LocusBots averaged 1.2 million daily units picked during the seven-day span.
The AMRs are designed to work collaboratively with human workers to dramatically improve piece-handling productivity by as much 100 to 200 percent, the company says. The bots can be reconfigured with totes, boxes, bins, containers or peripherals like barcode scanners, label printers and sensors, and can recognize workers’ Bluetooth badges and switches to their employees’ preferred language.
Powering the AMRs, proprietary software and reporting capabilities are designed to improve the efficiency of both outbound picking fulfillment and inbound putaway/replenishment capabilities, that can be deployed into both undeveloped and even recently abandoned warehouses. Acting as a coordinated fleet, the robots can autonomously navigate a warehouse, dynamically adjusting their paths and collaborating with workers. Locus’ algorithms are designed to dynamically allocate picker workloads to optimize productivity and minimize unproductive walking.
On the backend, the company’s cloud-based LocusServer directs the robots so they learn efficient travel routes, shares this information with other robots and clusters orders to where workers are. As orders come into warehouse management systems, Locus organizes them before transmitting back confirmations, providing managers with real-time performance data, including productivity and robot status.
Through LocusServer, managers can detect blockages and other traffic issues to improve item pick rates and order throughput. Locus’ directed picking technology points workers to their next picks, optionally providing challenges through a gamification feature that supports individual, team and shift goals, plus events and a mechanism managers can use to provide feedback. In addition, Locus’ backend collates various long-tail metrics, including hourly pick data, daily and monthly pick volume, current robot locations, and robot charging levels.
As the cloud-based software is accessible from anywhere, managers can review a wide range of dashboards using their smartphones or laptops, while employees can monitor performance on displays right on the warehouse floor.
The company offers “seasonal bots” to its existing accounts, so that retailers can be more flexible or scalable with their current labor force. With this program, retailers can have the seasonal bots air shipped to the warehouses, where they can be used for 60 days before being shipped back to Locus.
“The logistics industry is facing huge challenges as it struggles to cope with rapid increases in demand, and at the same time severe labor shortages,” said Ash Sharma, managing director at Interact Analysis, a market research firm covering the intelligent automation sector. “Warehouses are massively under-penetrated today, but increasingly operators are seeing the huge benefits that warehouse robotics such as the Locus solution can bring. As a result, we expect that over a million warehouse robots will be installed over the next four years and the number of warehouses using them will grow ten-fold.”
Gartner also expects that through 2023, demand for robotic goods-to-person (G2P) systems will quadruple to help enforce social distancing in warehouses. Worldwide shipments of warehousing and logistics robots will grow to 938,000 units annually by 2022 from 194,000 units in 2019, according to Tractica, a market intelligence firm that focuses on emerging technologies.
Locus robotics’ new funding round builds on support from existing investors including Scale Venture Partners and Prologis Ventures, the venture capital arm of logistics real estate company Prologis.
The company says its strategic partnerships with warehouse software companies and third-party logistics providers alike enables retailers to hasten the technology’s systems integration and deployment.
Locus customers worldwide include CEVA Logistics, DHL, Material Bank, Boots UK, Geodis, Port Logistics Group, Verst Logistics, Radial and others, with the company saying that they are doubling or tripling their fulfillment productivity with “near-100 percent accuracy,” while saving on operating expenses, and enhancing employee morale and safety.