Why do robots need the Moon if there are no pallets there?
The team that created the lunar rover has come up with a new robot that lifts and moves pallets, that is, it is able to perform without human participation 70% of operations, which occur in warehouses. Last year, the Skolkovo startup was recognized as one of the best European developers of solutions in the field of artificial intelligence by the experts of the Danish company Valuver.
Robotic unmanned pallet trucks and tractors have long been used by major retailers and manufacturing companies. For example, earlier this year, Amazon agreed to buy the French company Balyo, specializing in the production of unmanned forklift trucks. In 2012, Amazon acquired Kiva Systems, a company specializing in robotic solutions in the field of warehouse logistics, for $775 million.
In Russia, such solutions do not take root so easily, including due to national specifics: for effective work, warehouse robots need perfect order, a crooked container with goods can lead to failure, and in Russia the discipline of ordinary warehouse employees is far from ideal, says co-founder of RoboCV Sergey Maltsev.
Maltsev and his colleagues did not start with warehouse solutions. The team that later became RoboCV worked on a project to create a lunar rover “Selenohod — – they wanted to win the competition of Google, which is ready to pay $20 million for a successful launch. But there was no investment to complete the development, and the project withdrew from the competition. However, the developments came in handy later, when Samsung became interested in RoboCV technologies in 2013, at whose factory the warehouse equipment was being modernized. The solution created for Samsung formed the basis of the technology that RoboCV sells now.
The solution is based on artificial intelligence, which controls the movement of warehouse equipment. Several laser scanners serve as his “eyes”, which help to position the pallet in the room, as well as detect obstacles and go around them. The same scanners read the barcode on the goods. “Unmanned robotic solutions for logistics are not a new industry in the world, but traditionally such robots act quite straightforwardly, performing predefined algorithms, and this can only work with perfect order. Our solution is collaborative: our robot is able to interact with a person and correct his mistakes, if there is a need for it”, – explains Maltsev.
Currently, among the clients of RoboCV are Samsung, Volkswagen, the French logistics operator FM Logistic, as well as two large Russian clients, whom the company has not yet named. The cost of the solution starts from 60 thousand euros. The main economic effect is achieved due to the savings on the photo. The robot can replace up to four people, since it is able to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week without interruptions. According to Maltsev, the solution is suitable for all enterprises working with goods of a sufficiently large size: logistics and postal companies, the automotive industry, electronics manufacturers, even oil and gas companies that produce consumer goods. In some industries that operate with too small objects, for example in pharmaceuticals, the RoboCV solution is not yet applicable.
Where there is hard, there is software
RoboCV supplies software completely of its own production, and also produces some parts for transport robots, but it buys the transport basis from other companies. So far, RoboCV has quite small projects: it supplies customers with up to several dozen warehouse robots on one site, but gradually the company expects to move to larger projects, including at the expense of new investors. In the fall of 2013, RoboCV sold 33% of shares to LETA Capital Fund for $500 thousand. In 2015, the company attracted $3 million of investments from venture funds I2BF Global Ventures, VTB Capital Investment Management, LETA Capital, Almaz Capital and Columbus Nova Technology Partners. The lead investor of the round was the I2BF Global Ventures fund. Now we are looking for investors for the third round.