On the job with Locus Robotics’ bots, called LocusBots
Robots that can help retailers keep up with Amazon are a hot commodity, and investors are taking notice. Today, one of these industrial robotics makers, Locus Robotics, said that it had raised $150 million led by Tiger Global and Bond at a $1 billion valuation as ecommerce surged. It was one of the first to reach the unicorn level.
“We are excited about this unicorn valuation,” CEO Rick Faulk told Forbes. “There aren’t many of them in the world today in this space.”
Wilmington, Mass.-based Locus makes autonomous mobile robots, which it calls LocusBots, that can pick items at warehouses. While the company declined to disclose revenue, Faulk confirmed that it is between $10 million and $100 million — and growing so quickly that it could hit the latter figure within a few years. Locus has some 4,000 robots in the field today, at more than 40 customers, including shipping giant DHL and British health and beauty retailer Boots UK. And those robots have picked a total of more than 300 million units, including 70 million during the recent holiday season.
“This is an industry that operated the same way for 50 years, and it sort of worked,” Faulk says. “Now they understand that to survive they need to automate.”
Back in 2014, the company spun out of third-party logistics firm Quiet Logistics after Amazon purchased Kiva Systems and stopped selling its robots to firms like Quiet that had deployed them for ecommerce. Faulk, a 71-year-old serial entrepreneur who successfully led three previous tech companies to exits, took over the CEO spot from cofounder Bruce Welty in 2016.
Amazon’s acquisition of Kiva triggered something of an arms race to develop better, more efficient robots that could handle the crush of business in warehouses as ecommerce exploded. The push for automation to increase efficiency and handle surging demand — and compete with Amazon — has only increased during Covid-19. Locus’s competitors include Fetch Robotics and GreyOrange, among other robotics firms.
“This is an industry that operated the same way for 50 years, and it sort of worked. Now they understand that to survive they need to automate.”
Over the past six months, Faulk says, online ordering increased from 11% of total business to 16%, putting pressure on operators to increase automation. The vast majority of warehouses — some 95%, representing 100,000 buildings worldwide, according to Faulk — continue to operate manually. The company says that it can double, or even triple, fulfillment productivity with near-100% accuracy. “The Amazon effect is really driving the industry,” he says.
In a sign of how hot this area has become, Locus’s valuation has roughly tripled in just eight months, from $361 million after a Series D funding round last June, according to venture-capital database PitchBook. Locus has now raised more than $260 million.
With the new funding the firm intends to expand its global operations, including to Asia, and to continue to invest in research and development to add new features and functionality. The company already offers real-time data visualization to track warehouse operations on an iPhone or wearable, and it plans to continue adding to those capabilities with artificial intelligence and machine learning. “I was literally looking at one of our buildings a few minutes ago,” Faulk says.
Next up, Faulk says that he’s now “lining up the cards” to bring the company public, though he hasn’t set a timetable yet. “We believe Locus should be a public company,” he says. “We will have the scale to do it.”