A few years ago, Amazon.
com triggered a robot arms race when it purchased a company called Kiva Systems, maker of automated warehouse robots. Now its competitors are landing bigger and bigger cash injections to lay low the e-commerce giant.
Locus Robotics, a spin-off of a warehouse company that decided to build its own robots after the Amazon
deal back in 2012, raised another $25 million in venture capital, bringing its total funding to more than $33 million, the company announced last week.
The new cash for Locus followed a $15 million injection in July for 6 River Systems Inc., a robotics company founded by ex-Kiva executives. In March, China warehouse robotics start-up Geek+, which boasts Alibaba as a client, raised $22 million. Competitor RightHand added $8 million in venture funding this year as well.
Warehouses are more plentiful than ever, as retailers and logistics companies
scramble to add more space in more places. Retailers must get as close to their customers as possible, as shoppers order online more often and demand shorter delivery times.
Builders spent $2.6 billion on warehouse construction in September, more than triple what they spent in September 2012. Retailers and logistics companies
are experimenting with robot workers in a bid to make these new industrial buildings more productive.
“Fulfillment warehouses are under tremendous pressure to meet increasing demands for fast, accurate order fulfillment in the face of significant labor challenges,” said Rick Faulk, chief executive of Locus Robotics, in a statement. “In an economy largely dominated by Amazon, Locus arms independent operators with the means to compete effectively.”
The warehouse industry employed 960,400 Americans in October, up 42 percent over the past decade, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Now the industry is struggling to find the workers it needs: 219,000 employees were hired by transportation, warehousing, and utilities companies
in September, while another 246,000 open positions went unfilled.