Drones aren't just for infrastructure inspection, real estate photography, or security. Last month, Corvus Robotics Inc. announced $5 million in seed funding, bringing its total financing to date to $8 million.
Jackie Wu, Mohammed Kabir, Jonathan Sandau, and Bryan Monti founded the Mountain View, Calif.-based company in 2017. It has been developing artificial intelligence and machine learning for autonomous robots and drones to be used indoors.
CTO Mohammed Kabir. Source: Corvus Robotics
“The supply chain shocks in the past several years have affected companies of all sizes,” said Kabir, co-founder and chief technology officer of Corvus.
“Every piece of inventory going to the right place is important,” he added. “We’re building an end-to-end suite of solutions automating inventory visibility across the warehouse workflow, starting with drones for inventory scans.”
Drones take off to meet inventory challenges
Most warehouses currently conduct inventory by sending employees to scan barcodes. This is a tedious and repetitive task that can require workers to go on lifts to reach items on high shelves. Manual scanning results in only 65% to 75% accuracy, noted Corvus Robotics.
In addition, inventory “shrinkage” accounts for 1.38% of all retail sales, or almost $48 billion, according to the 2019 National Retail Security Survey. Operations grappling with supply chain disruptions and labor shortages are looking for technologies to mitigate these challenges.
Corvus claimed that its drones can capture inventory 10 to 100 times more often than manual methods. It said its customers have seen their daily inventory accuracy go up to 99% or more. Not only can its systems save money and improve operational efficiencies, but Corvus said they can also reduce waste and the need for demanding and at times hazardous work.
“There's no limit to how many units we can deploy,” said Disha Sarawgi, head of special projects and an early employee of Corvus Robotics. “The customer might want scanning once per week or once per day rather than once per month.”
Autonomy for hands-off operations
Corvus Robotics said its drones enable fully automated inventory management with no external infrastructure. With Level 4 autonomy, the drones can navigate through aisles while simultaneously scanning barcodes. The autonomy stack relies on computer vision and deep learning for localization and navigation, said the company.
Many warehouses also have unreliable Wi-Fi, so robots risk losing track of inventory. In response, Corvus' software stack runs fully onboard the drone. While many operations using drones use external stickers or beacons to enable navigation, the company said its drones are fully autonomous and can fly unattended for weeks at a time.
“It’s been very exciting to work on the autonomy system from the ground up, then reach the milestone where we’re putting it in multiple customer facilities,” said Sarawgi. “There is this ‘wow’ moment when customers realize the vehicle is flying by itself, fully autonomously, without any tricks like stickers or beacons, and it’s doing the tasks that the people hated doing.”
Who is responsible for managing the drones in Corvus' robotics-as-a-service (RaaS) model? “We usually train a 'robot guardian' who can take care of cleaning needs,” Sarawgi told Robotics 24/7. “Our mean time between interventions is weeks, and our drones can do thousands of flights without intervention.”
Corvus says its drones, scanners, and software can automate inventory management and make it safer. Source: Corvus Robotics
Corvus processes data for customers
Corvus Robotics said it has designed its drones to address obstacles inherent to the warehouse environment. The technology has to work in dark spaces and scan small barcodes, which is why it includes advanced cameras and industrial-grade barcode scanners.
The drones collect the data, which is downloaded and recorded in a customer’s warehouse management system (WMS) at the end of each flight.
Disha Sarawgi. Source: LinkedIn
“Part of what we do is not just scan inventory, but also process what we collect to integrate into WMSes,” Sarawgi said. “They get the data minutes after a flight, and see improvements in inventory accuracy in just a few days.”
“We provide pictures and videos of the inventory we scan, plus occupancy estimates,” she added. “We then accumulate all of that into whatever the customer wants to see.”
“A key metric is data accuracy, such as if inventory needs replenishment or cycle counting and tracking inventory,” explained Sarawgi. “It's not just raw accuracy, but also cutting down the numer of hours staffers have to put into doing tasks that can be automated.”
Corvus Robotics to use funding for growth
Last month, Corvus Robotics announced $5 million in seed funding, bringing its total financing to date to $8 million. Spero Ventures led the round, with participation from S2G Ventures, One Way Ventures, F7 Ventures, and Y Combinator. The company said the latest funding will enable it to scale across customer sites and complete research and development for new product lines, including ground-based robots and stationary scanners.
“Over the past couple of years, we saw the impact of inaccurate data in our supply chains,” said Shripriya Mahesh, founding partner at Spero Ventures. “Corvus is fundamental to enabling warehouses to have accurate data and making our supply chain infrastructure more resilient.”
While Corvus is currently focused on the storage stage of the supply chain, the company’s stated goal is to be an “end-to-end inventory visibility provider for warehouses and factories, tracking products from when they enter the dock until they leave the warehouse by continuing to leverage autonomy and computer vision technology.”
“We're going to us the funding to scale up to as many warehouses this year as we can, preordering many parts for the drones,” said Sarawgi. “We're building everything in-house, and our goal is to deploy an inventory ecosystem. We've worked with 3PLs [third-party logistics providers], big retailers, and suppliers. If you have a barcode, we can scan it.”
About the Author
Eugene Demaitre is editorial director of Robotics 24/7. Prior to joining Peerless Media, he was a senior editor at Robotics Business Review and The Robot Report. Demaitre has also worked for BNA (now part of Bloomberg), Computerworld, and TechTarget. He has participated in numerous robotics-related webinars, podcasts, and events worldwide.
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