Although the past year was full of challenges for businesses of all kinds, it provided opportunities for robotics users and providers. Plus One Robotics Inc. has not only weathered COVID-19 disruptions; it has also responded to fast-growing demand for smart automation.
“The first half of 2021 was full of continued uncertainty on a global scale,” wrote Erik Nieves, co-founder and CEO of Plus One, in a blog post. “We had great people on board, the right technologies in development, and clients who were excited about what we were doing. But things were moving slowly in the face of this 'new normal' that COVID-19 had wrought on the population and the global economy. Many of our partners were in a wait-and-see position, which meant that business was quiet through those early months.”
“But then the second part of the year rolled around, and the swell of momentum turned into a giant wave,” he recalled. Nieves noted that Plus One's robots reached more than 1 million picks per day in 2021. Even as automation grows, 1 million additional warehouse workers will be needed by 2024, found a study commissioned by the company.
Founded in 2016, Plus One Robotics applies artificial intelligence and computer vision to materials handling in warehouses. The San Antonio, Texas-based company's “supervised autonomy” approach enables one person to manage multiple robots simultaneously through its Yonder software.
“Our approach to keeping a human in the loop is not as a patch, but as our fundamental belief,” Nieves told Robotics 24/7. Plus One's software is designed to work with any robot arm, gripper, and cloud service, enabling human “crew chiefs” to address exceptions.
Unlike fixed conveyors, which may require 12 to 18 months to roll out, Plus One's Rapid Deployment System (RDS) “can be up and working within days,” said Nieves.
Plus One Robotics grows partnerships in 2021
In August, Plus One announced that it is working with systems integrator Mission Design and Automation LLC to apply its Pick One vision software to handling a wide array of goods in distribution centers.
Also that month, Motion Controls Robotics Inc. (MCRI) joined Plus One's integrator program to help warehouse operators add automation for tasks including depalletization, induction, tote picking, and parcel sortation.
Nieves added that Plus One's relationships with integrators including Actemium, Attabotics, Calvary Robotics, Pearson, ROBEX, and Solution Net Systems will help it serve a wider range of customers.
In October, Plus One partnered with Locus Robotics Corp. to develop an automated picking system combining Plus One-powered stationary robot arms and Locus' autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) for e-commerce order fulfillment.
Fundraising supports expansion
Plus One Robotics raised $33 million in Series B funding in April. It plans to continue its global expansion and to apply its AI and supervised autonomy to new tasks.
In addition, Plus One is already looking for more space after doubling its headquarters this past year, reported My San Antonio. Its headcount grew from 42 to 70 full-time staffers across three offices on two continents, and it could reach 100 in the coming year.
The company is working with FedEx Corp. to meet ever-growing logistics automation needs, said Nieves.
“2022 is going to be tremendous,” he said. “We opened our new facility in the Netherlands this year, and our expansion in Europe will be a significant part of our sales in 2022 and the future as we bring on more clients and our existing clients expand with us. Globally, we are looking past 2022 to Asia.”
“Though we are most known for the induction and singulation work we do with parcel clients, 2022 will see an increase in other applications of our technology,” said Nieves. “As we move forward, expect to see Plus One’s fundamental philosophy manifested in significantly more industries. We always say 'Robots work. People rule.' That idea of supervised autonomy—having a human in the loop to handle exceptions that AI alone can’t manage—has broad applications throughout all kinds of industries.”