Robot maker Harvest Automation eyes e-commerce with shift to packages from plants
February 11, 2015 04:49 PM
A Massachusetts maker of robots that plans to start selling its technology for e-commerce fulfillment has raised more than $2.87 million in a recent financing round. Harvest Automation Inc. could end up raising a total of $7 million, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
Boasting on its web site that it makes “Mobile Robots for Industrial Productivity,” Harvest Automation sells its technology to nursery and greenhouse operators for such tasks as crop sensing and analysis. The robots measure the health of plants to better deploy water and fertilizer, for instance.
The company aims to translate its technology for e-commerce jobs: The Harvest TM-100, which resembles a small gray dump truck and is set to be launched in spring 2016, will offer “scalable and flexible automation that is easily integrated into distribution and fulfillment centers of all sizes,” according to Harvest.
The company’s technology would seem to offer e-commerce operators similar robotic ability to that used by the biggest online player in North America, Amazon.com Inc., No. 1 in the Internet Retailer 2014 Top 500 Guide. As of late 2014, Amazon had deployed at least 15,000 robots in 10 U.S. fulfillment centers, exceeding CEO Jeff Bezos’ projection of 10,000 by the end of 2014. The robots allow Amazon to pick orders two to three times faster than filling orders manually, one report says. The robotic deployment represents the latest fruit from Amazon’s $775 million purchase of robotic logistical provider Kiva Systems Inc. about two years ago.
Harvest’s backers include Kensington Capital Holdings, Founder Collective and Entrée Capital. Its management team includes CEO John Kawola, whose previous experience involves 3D printing technology firms, along with a tenure as a GE Energy project manager; founder and chief operating officer Charles Grinnell, whose experience includes co-founding a medical device company and working for a company created by Dean Kamen, best known for his Segway transport device; and founder and chief technology officer Joe Jones, previously senior roboticist at iRobot and co-inventor of the Roomba vacuuming robot.