Ocado buys two US robotics companies

Ocado buys two US robotics companies

Business news |
By Nick Flaherty

The Ocado Group has acquired two US robotics companies following a minority stake in an Greek robotics manufacturer.

The group, which also includes a retail arm, acquired Kindred Systems of San Francisco for its piece-picking robotics and machine learning vision technology for $262m. A second deal for $25m acquired Haddington Dynamics in Las Vegas, a designer of robotic arms, again used for picking general items off shelves for online deliveries.

This follows an investment in Myrmex in Athens, Greece to develop robotics systems for the Group.

“We consider the opportunities for robotic manipulation solutions to be significant, both for Ocado Smart Platform clients and across the fast-growing online retail and logistics sectors,” said Tim Steiner, CEO of Ocado. “We believe they have the capabilities to allow us to accelerate delivery, innovate more, and grow faster. I am also excited by the opportunity to enter new markets for robotic solutions outside of grocery that is demonstrated by Kindred Systems’ robust growth, with existing customers such as Gap and American Eagle across the general merchandise and logistics sectors.”

“Ocado has made meaningful progress in developing the machine learning, computer vision and engineering systems required for the robotic picking solutions that are currently in production at our Customer Fulfilment Centre in Erith [London]. Given the market opportunity we want to accelerate the development of our systems, including improving their speed, accuracy, product range and economics.”

“I am proud to see Kindred Systems and our brilliant team recognised by Ocado as a leader in robotic pick and place manipulation, and we are extremely excited to realise our next chapter as part of them,” said Marin Tchakarov, CEO of Kindred Systems.

The company has 90 staff, half engineers, at its headquarters and in Toronto. It was one of the first companies to successfully use deep reinforcement learning  to develop piece-picking robots with AI-powered vision and motion control. Once a robot is installed, Kindred Systems provides teleoperation remote assistance and engineering services to ensure that the robot continues to operate at a high pick rate with limited downtime. 

“We have achieved very strong growth with our retail e-commerce fulfilment customers over the last three years, and the unique challenges presented in grocery fulfilment will bring an even richer learning environment, further expanding on both our technology and market solutions set,” said Tchakarov.

The company expects to have approximately 180 robots installed and operating by the end of the year. Ocado is retaining around $4m for certain employee shareholders of Kindred Systems in equal tranches on the first, second and third anniversaries of the deal.

Haddington Dynamics uses 3D printing for robotic picking arms and has supplied US space agency NASA and plastics supplier DuPont.

The Ocado Group has secured intellectual property and has appointed Myrmex in Greece to design and develop a bespoke product. Ocado Group took a minority stake in Series B funding and a seat on the board with the option to participate in future finance rounds.

The materials handling robotics start-up with autonomous mobile robots and intelligent asset handling systems for the last mile of click-and-collect deliveries and has so far raised E3.4m.

“With over 20 years of experience in transforming online grocery through cutting-edge technology and automation, Ocado Group is widely recognised as the leader in this space. The company’s investment is testament to Myrmex’s robotics and automation capabilities and will enable us to accelerate the commercialization of our product portfolio,” said George Katiniotis, Chief Executive Officer of Myrmex.

“We’ve been impressed with Myrmex’s capabilities and are excited about the potential synergies with our existing business. As the shift to online grocery accelerates, we are moving even faster in adding automation to our end-to-end offering. Myrmex can play a part in that journey,” said Alex Harvey, Engineering Director for OSP Handling Robotics at Ocado Technology.

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