Logistics robotics has arguably been the hottest technology category over the past two years as companies look to stay competitive with Amazon, even in the midst of an ongoing labor shortage. However, one of the most important links in the chain, truck unloading, is not a particularly easy problem to solve, but Pickle Robotics is single-mindedly focused on it.
Warehouse work is hard enough these days, but unloading pallets and trucks also presents a host of problems, including repetitive heavy lifting and dramatic temperature fluctuations. Imagine stepping into a container that’s been in direct sunlight all day.
Traditional heavy equipment like forklifts has its own problems. The company describes its product this way: “Pickle was founded by MIT alumni. We’re teaching off-the-shelf robot arms how to pick up boxes and play Tetris. The company notes that it is already “unloading tens of thousands of packages a month at customer sites,” with the main test site in Southern California. So far, the work is part of a pilot with United Exchange, which has deployed the system in a distribution center.
Today, Pickle announced a $26 million Series A round of funding led by Ranpak, JS Capital, Schusterman Family Investments, Soros Capital and Catapult Ventures.
“Customer interest in the Pickle unloading system has been strong, and now that our initial unloading system is out of the lab and into customer operations, we have a clear path to broad commercialization,” said AJ Meyer, founder and CEO. Early customer deployments, financing and leadership additions have set the stage for us to accelerate customer acquisition and build the company infrastructure we need to deliver more systems to more customers in the coming months.”
Pickle isn’t the only robotics developer in the business, however. Notably, Boston Dynamics chose truck unloading as the focus for its second commercialized robot, Stretch. Unlike that solution, however, Pickle’s robot requires cable support and is not completely free-moving. In addition, Agility has explored truck unloading capabilities for its Digit robot. Even with all this additional competition, it’s a huge market with room for more than one player.