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October 01, 2012

Mobile Robot Maker Symbotic Deploying New Warehouse Robots to Customers



Symbotic, a mobile robot maker from Wilmington, has begun deploying warehouse robotics systems to its first commercial customers, according to a recent interview given by Jim Baum, formerly the CEO of IBM Netezza (News - Alert).

Symbotic's robots are specifically geared toward moving around large volumes of product, and have been used with some success in the warehouses of Symbotic's primary shareholder, C&S Wholesale Grocers Inc. The system tends to focus on one specific type of robot, the Matrix Rover, which is a small mobile robot that can move around on its own, in a bid to not only recover items, but move those items to where they need to be in a larger warehouse environment.

Baum described Symbotic's warehouse robots as being "like a mechanical Netezza", so it shows a solid connection between the two. That connection will likely prove valuable to Symbotic, as there is plenty of competition in this market, as a Boston-area firm, Rethink Robotics, is widely expected to ship its own units to customers sometime this week, and some have even compared Symbotic's robots to those of Kiva Systems from North Reading, a firm that Amazon had purchased for $775 million back in March. But Symbotic dismisses the comparisons to Kiva Systems, saying that Symbotic's systems are geared toward handling high volumes of product, while Kiva's offerings deal in small numbers typical of those needed in fulfilling orders in e-commerce.

Baum further said that companies using the Symbotic robot system can realize between 30 and 40 percent more storage space thanks to improvements in efficiency and labor. This owes in part to what Baum further called "very sophisticated software to control these environments, sophisticated robotics and robotic controls for how to navigate and drive, and patented techniques for how to pick things up and put them down."

While the idea of using robots as warehouse workers may be repellent in an economic environment that features large numbers of people out of work--not to mention negative press and the accompanying backlash at the consumer level--there's no denying that systems like Symbotic's can provide significant gains to the bottom lines of businesses with warehouse needs. Improved storage space and increased efficiency commonly lead to better profit numbers, all else being equal, but the risks are noteworthy in their own right. Still, it's clear many businesses will likely turn to warehouse robots like these in a bid to save money and do the job better, as well as faster.

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Edited by Brooke Neuman


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