Although self-driving vehicles are not yet ready for mass deployment on public streets, similar technology is already being used in commercial warehouse environments, according to Fox Robotics. The autonomous forklift company last week announced the close of an “oversubscribed” $20 million fundraising round. Fox Robotics said it plans to use the new funds to ramp up production, hire staffers, and expand globally.
“As the COVID-19 pandemic made evident, supply chain resiliency is paramount,” stated Peter Anderson-Sprecher, co-founder and CEO of Fox Robotics. “We have the ability to deploy our solutions to customers and have them up and running in less than one hour, which has been key to our success, as it lets us work closely with our customer-partners and rapidly learn in a live production environment.”
Founded in 2018, Fox Robotics develops, sells, and manufactures an autonomous forklift trailer unloader that it claimed is the world's first. The Austin, Texas-based company said it can cut forklift operating costs by up to 2x. It aims to operate 20% of the 1.5 million lift trucks sold annually—a $7.5 billion market.
Fox Robotics' leadership team has built robots and led robotics teams at Google Robotics, Google X, Carnegie Mellon, General Dynamics, MIT, Georgia Tech, and KUKA. The startup said its systems are running around the clock across dozens of customer sites today.
DHL Supply Chain proves value
Fox Robotics said it retrofits standard forklifts with sensors and software for autonomous material handling operations with precise navigation and robust pallet picking and movement. Deep learning systems use onboard cameras and lidar sensors to detect pallets, boxes, and other obstacles in real time.
The intelligent systems also enable the forklift to pick pallets out of trailers it is seeing for the first time, said the company. Fox claimed that it has solved the hardest forklift challenge to date – unloading trailers without modifying the warehouse environment – and that it has a clear path to automating all pallet movement.
Each forklift can be delivered and installed in under one hour, in comparision with the weeks or months needed to integrate typical automated guided vehicles (AGVs), said Fox. The company said it has provided automation for some of the world’s most complex logistics environments.
DHL Supply Chain, a leading contract logistics provider within Deutsche Post DHL Group, was Fox’s first customer and is rapidly deploying the technology across its warehouse network.
“At DHL Supply Chain, a key focus has been our 'Accelerated Digitization Strategy,' which seeks to nurture and deploy innovative technology solutions at scale,” said Sally Miller, CIO of DHL Supply Chain North America. “For this program to be successful, it is important that we establish strategic partnerships with companies like Fox where we can collaborate to develop solutions that addresses the unique challenges of the logistics industry.”
“Over the past three years, we’ve worked closely with Fox, testing and sharing operational knowledge, which has resulted in a product that delivers true value for both our customers and warehouse associates,” she added.
Fox Robotics gets funding from Zebra, BMW
BMW i Ventures led Fox Robotics' funding round. New investors included Zebra Technologies, Japan Airlines & Translink Innovation Fund, and Foothill Ventures. Existing investors Menlo Ventures, ENIAC Ventures, and SignalFire also participated.
“Supply chain efficiency and resiliency are top of mind for many companies today,” said Kasper Sage, Managing Partner at BMW i Ventures. “Fox Robotics’ autonomous forklifts allow customers to handle loads quicker and safer while increasing overall workplace productivity.”
BMW i Ventures invests in the fields of transportation, manufacturing, supply chain, and sustainability. The venture capital unit of BMW said it has made successful investments in companies such as Blackmore, Chargepoint, CelLink, Proterra, Solid Power, Tekion, and Xometry. BMW i Ventures invests in all stages, from seed to growth, with a focus on Series A and B.
Zebra Technologies, which provides industrial sensing and acquired mobile robot supplier Fetch Robotics last year, also invested in Fox Robotics.
“Zebra Technologies has been an active investor and solution provider to help businesses globally digitize and automate their supply chains and augment front-line workers,” said Tony Palcheck, managing director of Zebra Ventures at Zebra Technologies. “Fox has proven its ability to increase resiliency, safety, and drive measurable return on investment, and we look forward to working together with Fox on this next stage of growth.”
Former KUKA execs join Fox board
Concurrent with the closing of the round, Till Reuter, former CEO of KUKA, and David Fuller, former chief technology officer of KUKA and current CEO of Artificial, will join the company as independent board directors.
“Fox is executing today on one of the key visions David [Fuller] and I had always wanted to deliver with KUKA—the automation of the material handling function,” said Reuter. “At KUKA, we successfully optimized the production side with robots, and now Fox is well-positioned to do the same thing with pallet movement.”
“It’s almost hard to believe how effective they are, even when you see them up and running right in front of you,” he said.
Fox Robotics said it is on a mission to deploy its forklifts across warehouses and production environments across the globe and develop new autonomous capabilities to expand use cases.